Energy and Climate Action in the Western Region- what is the way forward?

The Western Development Commission (WDC) recently made a submission to the Initial Consultation on Ireland’s National Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030 (NECP).  This consultation was based on the template for the draft plan which Ireland is required to complete by the end of the year. The draft plan, once completed, will itself be the subject of a separate consultation process.  The WDC response focused on areas on which we work and on issues of key importance to the Region including rural issues, renewable energy and biomass use and electricity and natural gas transmission infrastructure.  The full WDC submission is available here.

Rural Issues

The Western Region (the area under the WDC remit) is very rural. Using the CSO definition 64.7% in of the population live outside of towns of 1,500 or more. Using the definition in Ireland 2040 the National Planning Framework 80% of people in Western Region live outside of towns of 10,000. Thus WDC work has a particular focus on the needs of, and opportunities for, more rural and peripheral areas.

Not only is the Western Region is very rural, it is important to also remember in regard to this Plan, that Ireland is one of the more rural members of the EU. It is critical, therefore, that the NECP takes this pattern of living into account and addresses the opportunities it provides as well as the challenges. Climate action for rural areas is not often discussed in policy and there is no significant body of work (internationally or nationally) on climate change and emissions issues for rural areas in developed countries and yet there are important differences in energy use patterns and emissions, in rural areas. While it is often acknowledged that rural dwellers have higher individual emissions the ways of addressing these are not usually explored partly because emissions reductions may be more difficult to achieve in rural areas and partly because the focus is usually on larger populations and ways to reduce the emissions of individuals living in more densely populated areas.

It should be remembered that, as in other policy areas, urban/rural is a rather simplistic division, which ignores the ‘suburban’ and the differences between rural towns and the open countryside which all have distinctive emission patterns. It is also important to be aware that people’s carbon footprints are closely linked to their incomes and consumption patterns and so do not necessarily relate directly to their location (urban or rural). In fact research in Finland[1] has highlighted higher emissions from urban dwellers based on their higher consumptions patterns. Nonetheless, despite the difficulties with a simple urban/rural dichotomy, there are of course concerns specific to rural dwellers emissions that deserve consideration.

Electricity, heat and transport are the three forms of energy use and therefore the source of emissions, for residential and commercial users and so the different urban and rural use patterns for each of these should be considered.  For more discussion of rural dwellers and climate mitigation see this post.

The WDC believes that it is essential that part of the NECP should have a specific focus on issues for rural areas, and actions to ensure that rural areas are in a position to benefit from a move to a low carbon economy (and there are many opportunities for them to do so) and that rural dwellers make a fair contribution to national goals for renewable energy and to actions to mitigate climate change.

Renewable Energy and Biomass

The WDC has been active in developing measures to promote the use of energy (in particular heat) from biomass, assessing biomass availability and the development of supply chains for its local use. Our experience has shown that strategic policy interventions must recognise the wider market environment in order to design and deliver effective, value for money policy and identify actions which result in sustainable market growth.

The WDC has shown that the renewable heat market has the potential to create considerable levels of employment across the Western Region and to provide long-term stable markets for low value wood fuels which can compete with fossil fuels and stabilise energy prices for end users (see here for WDC work on renewable energy).

An OECD report Linking Renewable Energy to Rural Development contains a useful examination of policy options and actions in fifteen OECD regions. It shows how bioenergy can provide greater local and national economic benefits than other renewable energies  and notes that bioenergy policy interventions are typically most effective when delivered at a regional and/or local level where they can be tailored to local resources and conditions.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is one of the most important areas to be addressed in our NECP and this will require strategies for public, private and domestic users. The WDC believes that the public sector should be a model for energy efficiency and for use of renewable energy in heat and transport. In doing so, as well as providing examples and participating in pilot actions, the public sector will be an important customer for businesses in the developing renewable energy or climate action sectors. Given the difficulties of matching supply and demand at local levels in emerging renewable heat markets, public sector investment in energy efficiency and making use of renewable energy in day to day activities will help to stimulate the development of businesses and allow  supply chains to develop securely.

The WDC also believes that it is very important to ensure that local communities are in a position to participate in energy efficiency and renewable energy development projects. Given that a complex mix of policy instruments will be required to incentivise and empower people to achieve 2030 targets, it should be remembered that the SEAI Better Energy Community Programme has delivered almost 10% of the overall Irish energy efficiency target. If there was a suite of additional community supports in addition to the grant aid even more could be delivered. Community groups often lack time, technical expertise, access to finance and financial expertise, bargaining skills, equipment and capacity to complete lengthy grant application documents.

Energy Infrastructure

Electricity transmission

The WDC believes that it is important that we make the most of our opportunities to generate electricity where the best resource is available. For this it is essential that there is investment in transmission infrastructure in areas which have the greatest potential resources.

The WDC recently commissioned a study[2] of current and future needs for electricity transmission infrastructure in the Region.  The Western Region has a significant capacity of connected renewable generation. By 2020 there could be approximately 1,760MW of renewable generation connected in the WDC region, consisting of 1,595MW of wind generation and 165MW of hydro generation. The Western Region is currently producing enough renewable generation to meet 100% of its own demand. By 2020 it will be a net exporter of renewable energy, providing approximately 15% of the total national demand and making a significant contribution to the 2020 RES-E targets.

The Western Region has some of the best resources for on shore wind in Europe, and in the future, as technology improves, for offshore energy generation. It is therefore important to the Region and to Ireland, as well as the rest of the EU, that there is development of significant electricity transmission infrastructure projects in Donegal and North Mayo[3] in order to make the best use of this resource. While there are opportunities to use smart grid technologies to maximise the use of existing transmission infrastructure, further investment in new infrastructure is also needed. Developing electricity transmission infrastructure is a slow process, so it is important that the NECP has clear objectives in this area which can then feed into any new Grid Development Strategy so that EirGrid can develop a transmission grid fit for a low carbon economy in the long term.

Gas transmission

A significant part of the north west of Ireland does not have access to the natural gas transmission grid. As has been discussed by the WDC elsewhere, the development of the gas grid can give rise to significant savings for both commercial and domestic users (see Why invest in gas? Benefits of natural gas infrastructure for the north west). As a lower emission fossil fuel natural gas can also contribute to a reduction in emissions by users who connect and, in the future with the development of renewable gas, there will be further opportunities to lower emissions through its use in place of natural gas.

In addition, a high level study commissioned by government (conducted by KPMG) last year into the Irish National Gas Network examined issues relating to the wider economic costs and benefits of potential extensions to the Irish natural gas network, including decarbonisation, air quality, climate and emissions and regional and rural development benefits. The findings of this study have not yet been published but they should feed in to the NECP. The WDC believes that further focus on the use of natural gas as a transition fuel and on the development of gas transmission in the north west should form a key part of the NECP.

Conclusion

In this post I have outlined some of the key points in the WDC submission to the NECP Initial Consultation.  The WDC believes that the renewable energy and climate action have the potential to create considerable employment across the Western Region and to provide long term stable markets for many low value biological outputs, as well as ensuring that much of the money spent on energy remains in Ireland.  However, in order to make this happen we suggest that high level targets in the NECP should be translated into a regional and local context so they can drive the delivery of a thriving low carbon economy and spread the benefits throughout the country.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] Heinonen J and S Junnila, 2011 A Carbon Consumption Comparison of Rural and Urban Lifestyles Sustainability 2011, 3, 1234-1249;

[2] This study was conducted for the WDC by MullanGrid and will be available shortly.

[3] In addition to the North Connacht Project which is currently planned in North Mayo and which is unlikely to have any spare capacity by the time it is commissioned

How can we develop renewable heat use in the Western Region?

The WDC has recently published an analysis study of opportunities for the development of the renewable heat sector in the Western Region.  The study ‘A Regional Renewable Energy Analysis: Using Biomass to Contribute to the National Renewable Heat Target’ was under taken as the Western Development Commission (WDC), along with SEAI, were tasked under the Action Plan for Jobs: West Region 2015 – 2017  (Action 134 ) to undertake a Regional renewable energy analysis on the use of biomass as a local contribution to the national renewable heat target and develop a range of actions to support the development of renewable energy in the region”.

The study considers the use of biomass use in the WDC region (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare), along with an assessment of the potential contribution to the national renewable heat target.  The analysis focused on ‘solid biomass’ – that is forest derived wood fuels used for energy production[1].

The use of biomass for heat generation is likely to have the greatest potential for the Western Region in the immediate future in achieving the renewables heat target and reducing carbon emissions.  An EU 2020 target of 16% renewable energy is to be achieved by 2020 across the electricity, transport and heat (and cooling) sectors in all member states. Ireland is one of only four countries in Europe expected to miss its renewable energy target[2][3].  Heat is the largest of these three sectors, and Ireland has a target of 12% of final heating demand be derived from renewable sources by 2020.

Between September and December 2017, the survey of biomass deployment in the WDC region was undertaken which found seven large industrial biomass schemes using 110,000 tonnes of wood fuels a year. The installed capacity of these schemes ranges from 2,000kW to 22,000kW (31.2 Kilotonne of Oil Equivalent (ktoe)). The survey also found 43 smaller non-domestic biomass installations with installed capacities ranging from 50kW to 550kW. Only 24 of these are known to be operational, representing 6,600kW of installed capacity using 6,269 tonnes of wood fuel a year (1.74 ktoe).

In the WDC region, total biomass deployment is equal to 32.94 ktoe. This represents 8.1% of the Western Region heat market.  Taking into account the already installed biomass, this means 7.78 ktoe of new biomass deployment is needed by 2020 to achieve a target of 12% renewable heat for the Region.

This would require €35 million of capital investment and would create 70 new full time jobs and save 28,000 tonnes of CO2. As the potential total market is estimated to be 275MW, suggesting that 35MW of new capacity is a viable aspiration.

The WDC proposed 2018 – 2020 Action Programme, which is part of this report, considers how some of these barriers can be overcome and the growth of biomass could be achieved in the Western Region.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] There is a modest percentage of non-solid biomass used to generate renewable energy, and this has been commented upon in the report where appropriate.

[2]https://www.seai.ie/Publications/Statistics_Publications/Energy_Modelling_Group_Publications/Ireland%E2%80%99s-Energy-Targets-Progress-Ambition-and-Impacts.pdf

[3] The others are the UK, the Netherlands and Luxembourg

Key Issues for the National Planning Framework – Submission from the WDC

The WDC  made its submission on Ireland 2040 – Our Plan: National Planning Framework   yesterday.  The Issues and Choices paper covered a wide range of topics from national planning challenges to sustainability, health, infrastructure and the role of cities and towns.  A key element of the paper considered the future in a “business as usual” scenario in which even greater growth takes place in the Dublin and Mid East region with consequent increased congestion and increasing costs for businesses and society, while other parts of the country continue to have under-utilised potential which is lost to Ireland.  The consultation paper therefore sought to explore the broad questions of alternative opportunities and ways to move away from the “business as usual” scenario.

The WDC submission considers these issues from the perspective of the Western Region, the needs of the Region, the opportunities its development presents for Ireland’s economy and society as a whole and the choices, investments and policy required to achieve regional growth and resilience.

This post highlights the key points made in the submission.  The complete, comprehensive submission on the National Planning Framework by the WDC can be read here (4.5MB PDF).  A shorter summary is available here (0.7MB PDF).

 

What should the NPF achieve?

  • The National Planning Framework (NPF) provides Ireland with an opportunity to more fully realise the potential of all of its regions to contribute to national growth and productivity. All areas of Ireland, the Capital and second tier cities, large, medium and small-sized towns, villages and open countryside, have roles to play both in the national economy and, most importantly, as locations for people to live.
  • While spatial planning strives for ideal settlement or employment patterns and transport infrastructure, in many aspects of life change is relatively slow; demographics may alter gradually over decades and generations and, given the housing boom in the early part of this century, many of our existing housing units will be in use in the very long term. If the NPF is to be effective it must focus on what is needed, given current and historical patterns and the necessity for a more balanced pattern of development.
  • To effectively support national growth it is important that there is not excessive urban concentration “Either over or under [urban] concentration … is very costly in terms of economic efficiency and national growth rates” (Vernon Henderson, 2000[1]). Thus it is essential that, through the NPF, other cities and other regions become the focus of investment and development.

Developing Cities

  • As the NPF is to be a high level Framework, in this submission the WDC does not go into detail by naming places or commenting on specific development projects, as these will be covered by the forthcoming Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES). The exception to this, however, is in relation to the need for cities to counterbalance Dublin.  In this case we emphasise the role of Galway and the potential for Sligo to be developed as the key growth centre for the North West.
  • The North West is a large rural region and Sligo is the best located large urban centre to support development throughout much of the North West region. With effective linkages to other urban centres throughout the region and improved connectivity, along with support from regional and national stakeholders, Sligo can become a more effective regional driver, supporting a greater share of population, economic and employment growth in Sligo itself and the wider North West region.

Developing Towns

  • While the NPF is to be a high level document and the focus is largely on cities it is important not to assume that development of key cities will constitute regional development. All areas need to be the focus of definite policy, and the NPF should make this clear.
  • While cities may drive regional development, other towns, at a smaller scale, can be equally important to their region. Recognising this is not the same as accepting that all towns need the same level of connection and services.  It is more important to understand that the context of each town differs, in terms of distance and connectivity to other towns and to the cities, the size of the hinterland it serves and its physical area as well as population.  Therefore their infrastructure and service needs differ.
  • Towns play a central role in Ireland’s settlement hierarchy. While much of the emphasis in the NPF Issues and Choices paper is on cities and their role, for a large proportion of Ireland’s population small and medium-sized towns act as their key service centre for education, retail, recreation, primary health and social activities.  Even within the hinterlands of the large cities, people access many of their daily services in smaller centres.  The NPF needs to be clear on the role it sees for towns in effective regional development.

Rural Areas

  • Rural areas provide key resources essential to our economy and society. They are the location of our natural resources and also most of our environmental, biodiversity and landscape assets.  They are places of residence and employment, as well as places of amenity, recreation and refuge.
  • They are already supporting national economic growth, climate action objectives and local communities, albeit at a smaller scale than towns and cities. But a greater focus on developing rural regions would increase the contribution to our economy and society made by rural areas.
  • The key solution to maintaining rural populations is the availability of employment. It is important that the NPF is truly focused on creating opportunities for the people who live in the regions, whether in cities, towns or rural areas.

Employment and Enterprise

  • In the Issues and Choices paper a narrow definition of ‘job’, ‘work’ and ‘employer’ as a full-time permanent employee travelling every day to a specific work location seems to be assumed. This does not recognise either the current reality of ‘work’ or the likely changes to 2040. Self-employment, the ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, contract work, freelancing, e-Working, multiple income streams, online business are all trends that are redefining the conceptions of work, enterprise and their physical location.
  • If the NPF mainly equates ‘employer’ with a large IT services or high-tech manufacturing company, many of which (though by no means all) are attracted to larger cities, then it will only address the needs of a small proportion of the State’s population and labour force.
  • Similarly the NPF must recognise the need to enable and support the diversification of the Irish economy and enterprise base. It must provide a support framework for indigenous business growth across all regions and particularly in sectors where regions have comparative advantage.

Location Decisions

  • While job opportunities are a critical factor in people’s decision of where to live, they are by no means the only factor. Many other personal and social factors influence this decision such as closeness to family (including for childcare and elder care reasons), affordability, social and lifestyle preferences, connection to place and community.
  • Many people have selected to live in one location but commute to work elsewhere or, in some cases, e-Work for a number of days a week. The NPF needs to recognise the complexity of reasons for people’s location decisions in planning for the development of settlements.

Infrastructure

  • New infrastructure can be transformative (the increase in motorway infrastructure in recent decades shows how some change happens relatively quickly). Therefore it is essential that we carefully consider where we place new investments.  To do so, capital appraisal and evaluation methods determining the costs and benefits of different investment projects need to be re-examined if we are to move from a ‘business as usual’ approach.
  • Investment in infrastructure can strongly influence the location of other infrastructure with a detrimental impact on unserved locations. The North West of the country is at a disadvantage compared to other regions with regard to motorway access. This situation will be compounded if investment in rail is focused on those routes with better road access (motorways) in order for rail to stay competitive, or if communications or electricity networks are developed along existing motorway or rail corridors.
  • The WDC believes that the regional cities can be developed more and have untapped potential, however better intra-regional linkages are needed. The weaker links between the regional centres – notably Cork to Limerick and north of Galway through to Sligo and on to Letterkenny, are likely to be a factor in the relatively slower growth of regional centres in contrast to the motorway network, most of which serves Dublin from the regions.

Climate Change

For the future, the need to move to a low carbon, fossil fuel free economy is essential and needs to be an integral and much more explicit part of the NPF.  The National Mitigation Plan for Climate Change is currently being developed, and it is essential that actions under the NPF will be in line with, and support, the actions in the Mitigation Plan.

How should the NPF be implemented?

  • While much of the role of the NPF is strategic vision and coordination of decision-making, in order for the Framework to be effective it is essential that the achievement of the vision and the actions essential to it are appropriately resourced. The Issues and Choices paper does not give a detailed outline of how the NPF implementation will be resourced, except through the anticipated alignment with the Capital Investment Programme.
  • It should be remembered that policy on services and regional development is not just implemented through capital spending but also though current spending and through policy decisions with spatial implications (such as those relating to the location of services). Therefore it is essential that other spending, investment and policy decisions are in line with the NPF rather than operating counter to it.
  • While the NPF is to provide a high level Framework for development in Ireland to 2040, it seems this Framework is to be implemented at a regional level through the RSES. The Framework and the Strategies are therefore interlinked yet the respective roles of the NPF and the RSES are not explicit and so it is not evident which areas of development will be influenced by the NPF and which by the RSES.
  • In order to ensure that the NPF is implemented effectively it is important that there is a single body with responsibility for its delivery and that there is a designated budget to help achieve its implementation.

 

It is expected that a draft National Planning Framework document will be published for consultation in May.  Following that a final version of the Framework will be prepared for discussion and consideration by Dáil Éireann.

 

As mentioned above the full WDC submission on the Issues and Choices paper Ireland 2040 Our Plan- A National Planning Framework is available here (PDF 4.5MB) and a summary of key point and responses to consultation questions is available here (PDF 0.7MB).

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] http://www.nber.org/papers/w7503

Sustainable Transport and Rail Freight

Just last week, the Minister for Transport, Paschal Donohoe, T.D., announced the allocation of €13.5 million in 2016 for sustainable transport projects in our regional cities. The Minister noted, ‘Providing more sustainable travel options in our regional cities is becoming increasingly important as congestion levels are on the increase again’.  Projects that will benefit are road improvements and junction upgrades to improve bus priority, the provision of additional cycle infrastructure and improvements to railway and bus stations.

Another option for promoting more sustainable transport, saving on CO2 emissions and relieving our congested road network is to support greater freight traffic by rail.

It is not well known that three of the four rail freight services currently in operation start or finish in the West. A report published last month by the Western Development Commission (WDC), Rail freight and the Western Region notes that rail currently moves less than 1% of surface freight across Ireland and most of this rail freight originates in the Western Region[1]. Irish Rail plans to quadruple national rail freight traffic within 4 years and much of this traffic could be from the Western Region. In the short-term this could double from 4 to 8 trainloads per weekday and each trainload removes approximately 18 truckloads from the road network.

Rail freight, where available, offers several advantages over road transport. It generates less than a quarter of the emissions of road haulage, removes heavy goods traffic from the road network  and it can provide an alternative and efficient route to market for business, avoiding congested routes and availing of the existing rail network.

The WDC report identifies traffic which could be transported by rail and also identifies the policies needed to support this growth.

Demand for new rail freight services comes following a period of continued under-investment and rationalisation of rail freight infrastructure and rolling stock. To assist Irish Rail develop the traffic potential and associated direct / indirect benefits to the country, the WDC report highlights some policies which can support the growth of this sustainable mode including:

  • A policy framework for freight transport is needed which sets out the multi-modal context of road, rail, air and sea which is central to supporting the wider economy.
  • Safeguarding and/or enhancing rail access into ports is needed – Dublin and Waterford have played a valuable role in the recent growth of rail freight. Policy support and investment in other ports such as Shannon Foynes, Galway and other ports, will be needed to reduce potential congestion and/or over-dependency on Dublin.
  • Maximising the use of the existing rail network such as using longer trains, use of the rail network at night, and engaging a bigger fleet of traction and rolling stock will all help grow the traffic volumes carried by rail.
  • Across many counties there have been initiatives to support new rail freight services – in Europe this has been largely based on the environmental benefits of rail freight compared to road freight. This has been done in absolute terms for example the European Commission’s former ‘Marco Polo’ mode shift programme (which closed in 2013) provided grants to offset the costs of starting up new intermodal and multimodal freight projects, the level of grant based on rail’s societal advantage over road estimated at €0.004 per tonne km. The Commission is currently considering a possible replacement for the Marco Polo programme.
  • In the UK supports are available based on the benefit:cost ratio (eg 4.27:1 for Great Britain rail freight revenue support grants[2] and 12.51:1 for Marco Polo mode shift grants[3]). Most of the intermodal services in the UK serving maritime and domestic customers have at some stage received revenue support grants.

The Government needs to de-carbonise the economy and the transport sector represents a major contributor to energy consumption and emissions. If greater efficiency is to be derived from freight transport, both road and rail will need to be exploited to their maximum extent, with the rail network having considerable untapped capacity. This is even more apparent with the increasing congestion evident on parts of the road network.

It seems the Department of Transport is now considering whether and how rail freight can play a greater role. According to Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021 (September 2015) the Government will commission a feasibility study to examine options for expanding freight transport on the railways. This is to be welcomed and it is to be hoped work on this will commence very shortly so that opportunities to move traffic more suited to the rail network will not be lost.

While rail freight will continue to play a relatively small role compared to road transport, there is potential to grow volumes which will not only capitalise on our existing rail network but will also deliver wider public and societal benefits in terms of lower emissions and reducing traffic on the congested road network.

 

Deirdre Frost

 

[1] WDC counties; Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and Clare

[2] Department for Transport Review of Revenue Support Freight Grant Schemes Summary Report, Arup 2014

[3] Ex ante Evaluation Marco Polo II (2007-2013), Final Report for the European Commission, ECORYS Transport June 2004, section 10.4