In response to the growing interest in the Irish Midlands in schemes which seek to export renewable energy directly to the UK Electricity grid, Energy Co-operatives Ireland, is setting up a large community co-op.
Energy Co-operatives Ireland has established smaller scale renewables co-ops in Ireland but now aims at creating a much larger and more geographically diverse co-operative. This will be aimed at maximizing the benefits to the relevant local communities of proposed large scale energy export projects.
ECI Spokesperson Cormac Walsh Stated:
‘We aim to set up a 10,000 member co-operative in the Midland region which will have two key roles in the development of renewable energy here. Firstly, our members should be able to gather enough funds through shareholdings to add vital Irish-based equity to any new initiative. Secondly we will also be able to ensure that the local communities in these areas will get real social and economic returns for the consent that they will be granting to these projects.’
Until now there has been only mixed success in achieving strong public acceptance for wind farm developments. Developers that point to construction employment benefits and commercial rate payments to County Councils are increasingly being met with calls that these are not enough to generate community support. Schemes such as community bursaries and social funds are also open to the criticism that they are operating on a 19th century benevolence model.
‘We are suggesting that local communities will decide how the benefits of large scale wind projects are dispersed. A company setting up a committee to distribute a fraction of their profits on whatever projects they want to support is not the answer to the public acceptance problem. We want a say in the distribution of the profits through a share in the equity. All members of the local community are potentially involved. Landowners rightly play a central role, but they can be joined in the support of a scheme by other local groups. All kinds of local people are affected by large scale projects such as those being proposed – they can influence public acceptance; their support can facilitate developers’ plans and speed up the planning process.’
Pádraig Howard of the large community owned West Clare Renewables wind farm project is participating in launching the proposed co-op.
‘This ultimately means that the local people in the midlands should not sell themselves short at this early stage. Only an equity stake ensures that future profitability will be shared amongst all the stakeholders.’
The ECI are confident that, as Ireland is the country in the world with the highest per capita co-operative membership, their proposals will meet with enthusiasm. They have also contacted the IFA who have expressed an interest in their renewable energy co-operatives proposals.
ECI will be holding public meetings at various locations in the Midlands to discuss their proposed co-operatives in the coming weeks.
For information/background contact Cormac Walsh Energy Co-ops Ireland www.energyco-ops.ie