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WDC Submission on Draft RSES for Southern Region

This week the WDC made a submission to the public consultation being held by the Southern Regional Assembly on their Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy.  The submission is available here.

As we’ve provided substantial input previously (available here) to the preparation of the Draft RSES, in this submission we mainly comment on the specific text and content of the Draft RSES document.

County Clare is the only county within the Southern Assembly region that is also under the remit of the Western Development Commission, therefore this submission largely focuses on the questions as they pertain to County Clare.

Some of the general comments contained in our submission include:

Role of Ennis

Apart from Ennis being a key economic and residential centre, Ennis is the county capital and link to rural parts of County Clare. This role is clearly evident in the extent of the Ennis labour catchment which extends across much of the County, with the exception of the Kilrush labour catchment to the south west of the county and the Shannon labour catchment to the south, see Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region (WDC 2018) here. This role should be maintained and harnessed to support the growth and development of Rural County Clare.

Our Region’s Economic Engines

Discussion of ‘achieving convergence between where people live and work’ needs to recognise the opportunity of remote working, either for people to work from home or a hub located close to their home.  It also needs to be recognised that job creation in smaller towns, villages and rural areas is another route to such convergence and pursing such convergence should not solely focus on building more houses in cities and other large urban centres.

Galway-Ennis-Shannon-Limerick (GESL) Economic Network

The Galway-Ennis-Shannon-Limerick Economic Network is actually a segment of the Atlantic Economic Corridor. It may currently be the most cohesive segment, given the proximity and strong ties between the centres, especially Limerick-Shannon and Ennis centres, with increasing economic activity between Galway, Ennis and Limerick supported by recent investments in improved transport connectivity especially the M18. This network can help support regional growth in both the Southern and Northern and Western Regions. In addition this segment of the network can point to how to improve and develop the cohesiveness of the broader Atlantic Economic Corridor.

Shannon Airport

The role of Shannon Airport needs to be further supported and enhanced. Though the National Aviation Policy (2015) does recognise the key role of Shannon Airport, the policy was developed well before the National Planning Framework which attempts to redirect growth away from ‘business as usual’.  However since then, there is ever greater concentration of international traffic at Dublin Airport. The RSES should advocate for a revised National Aviation Policy so as to fully support the regional population and employment targets. In the absence of a change in policy it is not clear how the Airports and Ports in the Southern Region can realise a stable or ideally a growing share of traffic.

 Limerick-Shannon MASP

The Limerick-Shannon MASP is different to others in that it is connecting two separate urban centres, albeit economically interdependent urban centres. As Limerick is the larger centre there is understandably much focus on it. The focus is also on connecting Limerick and Shannon Airport/Free Zone. The development and transport requirements of Shannon town itself should also be prioritised, to promote Shannon as an attractive place to live as well as work.

The full submission is available here.

Following the public consultation (which closed on 8 March) the SRA will prepare a report on issues raised in submissions/observations and recommend whether the RSES should be made with or without amendments. It may necessary to hold another phase of public consultation before the RSES can be finalised. You can check for updates on the process here.

 

Deirdre Frost

Give your view on the development of the Northern and Western Region- make a submission on the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy

Just a reminder that the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) is currently out for consultation, with a closing date of 8th February 2019.

The National Planning Framework (NPF) published last year, provides a framework for development and investment over the coming years. Under the umbrella of Project Ireland 2040, it was published with its companion, the National Development Plan (NDP), a 10 year strategy for public investment.

The NPF is a framework for the development needed to underpin population growth in Ireland of up to 1 million people (by 2040) with approximately 50% of this growth to be in the five main cities.  The Framework is underpinned by 10 National Strategic Outcomes and, central to it, is the concept of Compact Growth identifying where new growth can take place within the existing envelope of our Cities, Towns and villages.

The primary vehicle for delivering the NPF is through the implementation of Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES) for each of the three NUTS 2 Regions shown on the map below.  The Assembly in each of these Regions (the Northern and Western Region, the Southern Region  and the Eastern and Midlands Region) has a draft RSES currently under consultation.

The NWRA, through the RSES, aims to provide regional level strategic planning and economic policy in support of the implementation of the National Planning Framework and provide a greater level of focus around the National Policy Objectives and National Strategic Outcomes in the Region.  The challenge for the NWRA was to take the high-level framework and principles of the NPF and work out more detail at regional and local authority levels.  This NWRA RSES introduces the concept of a Growth Framework with ‘Five Growth Ambitions’ defining the priorities for the Region and how they are mutually intertwined. The five are:

  • Growth Ambition 1: Economy & Employment – Vibrant Region
  • Growth Ambition 2: Environment – Natural Heritage
  • Growth Ambition 3: Connectivity – Connected Region
  • Growth Ambition 4: Quality of Life
  • Growth Ambition 5: Infrastructure – Enabling Our Region

The draft NWRA Strategy can be viewed or downloaded here.

Written submissions or observations with respect to the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western Regional Assembly and the accompanying reports may be made between 19th November 2018 and 5pm on 8th February 2019 (both dates inclusive) through one of the following media:

On Line: Completing the RSES Web Submission Form available here.

Email: rses@nwra.ie

Mail: ‘RSES Submissions’, NWRA, The Square, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon. F45 W674

The focus of this post has been on the NWRA RSES.  In a future post we will outline key elements of the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Southern Regional Assembly  (consultation closing date is 8th March 2019).  The Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly Draft RSES is also currently out for consultation, with a closing date of 23rd January 2019.

 

Helen McHenry

WDC Insights Christmas Quiz Time Again! Take the 2018 quiz now.

It’s the WDC Insights Christmas Quiz time again.  How much do you know about the Western Region and regional development issues?

Take the quiz now or save it for ‘light reading’ over the holiday…. Or take it in January to inspire you for 2019.

Whenever you do take it, I hope you enjoy it and learn from it.  Thanks to all our blog readers this year.  We hope you have found it interesting, informative and, occasionally fun (rarely you might say…) . See you next year!

The answers are at the end with links to more information and the relevant posts.

You can add up your score and see what it says about your knowledge (and personality).

 

Good Luck!

1       The Western Region  

The Western Development Commission (WDC) is a statutory body that was set up to promote, foster and encourage social and economic development in the Western Region

How many counties are under the remit of the Western Development Commission?

  1. 9
  2. 11
  3. 7

2      Caring for the West

The Western Region is home to 19% of all carers in the State, higher than its 17.4% share of the national population, showing the greater need for, and provision of, unpaid care in the region.

What proportion of the Western Region population recorded themselves as providing unpaid care in census 2016?

  1. 6.3%
  2. 2.8%
  3. 4.5%

3      Disposable Incomes in the Western Region, 2015

According to the CSO data for 2015 (released in 2018), which county in the Western Region had the highest disposable income per person?

  1. Sligo
  2. Galway
  3. Clare

4     The Creative Sector

The WDC has been working on the development of the creative economy for more than ten years, with analysis and projects to stimulate its development.

What is the average number of workers in creative enterprises in the Western Region?

  1. 4 employees per firm
  2. 6 employees per firm
  3. 3 employees per firm

  1. Nuts about NUTS

Much of the data used by WDC Insights at regional level is provided at NUTS 2 and 3 levels.

How many NUTS 2 regions are there in Ireland?

  1. 5 NUTS 2 regions
  2. 3 NUTS 2 regions
  3. 2 NUTS 2 regions

6 Renewable Electricity Generation

The Western Region has some of the best resources for on renewable energy in Europe.  The WDC has continued to highlight the opportunities and needs of this sector.

What proportion of the electricity generation capacity in the Western Region is from renewable sources?

  1. 49.5%
  2. 73.2%
  3. 40.9%

7      Broadband

The WDC has been highlighting rural broadband needs for more than a decade. It is a particular issue for our largely rural region.

What proportion of SMEs in Connacht and Ulster rate their internet connection as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’?

  1. 73%
  2. 25%
  3. 34%

8      Enterprise in the Western Region

In September the WDC Insights publication.  ‘Enterprise in the Western Region 2016’ analysed the latest data from the CSO’s Business Demography which measured active enterprises in 2016.

How many enterprises were registered in the Western Region in 2016?

  1. 67,432
  2. 95,763
  3. 54,410

9      Farmers in the Western Region

There are three different measures of the number of ‘farmers’ in the Western Region.  The Census of Population was held in 2016, and this provides one measures of those involved in farming, data on CAP beneficiaries for 2016 provides another measure and recently released Revenue data for 2016 provides the third statistic.

Which measure shows the highest number of farmers in the region?

  1. Census 2016
  2. CAP beneficiaries
  3. Revenue data
  1. The Christmas Quiz

Why are you completing the Christmas Quiz today??

  1. You know loads about the Western Region and want to show off
  2. Your boss told you to.
  3. You are afraid Santa Claus won’t come if you don’t get a high score…

 

Answers

Don’t forget to keep count of how many correct answers you have.

 

  1. The Western Region

Answer: 3) 7 counties

The seven counties in the Western Region are: Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare

Read the WDC Insights blog to find out more about the issues in the region here

 

2          Caring for the West

Answer: 3) 4.5%

For more on caring in the Western Region see the post here.

 

3          Disposable Incomes in the Western Region, 2015

Answer 1) Sligo

For more information on county incomes in the Western Region see this post

 

4          Creative Economy

Answer 2) 2.6 employees per firm

Read more about the creative economy in the Western Region here

 

5          Nuts about NUTS

Answer 2) 3 NUTS2 regions

Read more changes in NUTS 2 regions here

 

6          Renewable electricity in the Western Region

Answer 1) 49.5%

Read more about Renewable electricity in the Western Region here

 

7         Broadband

Answer: 2) 25%

Read more about the issue of rural broadband here, here and here

 

8      Enterprise in the Western Region

Answer: 3) 54,410

Read more about the enterprise in the Western Region here

9        Farmers in the Western Region

Answer 2)  CAP beneficiaries

See here for more information about different measures of the number of ‘farmers’.

10      The Christmas Quiz

Any or all of these answers may be correct.  Give yourself the point for just getting this far and scroll down to see what your results mean.

 

How well did you do?

You got 9 or 10 answers correct

CONGRATULATIONS! You should be a WDC Policy Analyst!  You really know a lot about regional development, the Western Region and the Western Development Commission’s work.

 

You got between 4 and 8 answers correct

WELL DONE, a good score but some deficiencies in your knowledge. Perhaps you should read our WDC Insights posts more carefully in 2017!

 

You got between 0 and 3 answers correct

OH DEAR! Time to pay more attention to regional development and Western Region issues! You’ll have to do some extra study over the holiday! Reread the WDC Insights blog and check out the WDC publications page and re-take the quiz in the New Year  J

 

Happy Christmas!

 

 

Helen McHenry

 

Electricity Generation and Demand in the Western Region- A Renewable Story

The Western Region has some of the best resources for on shore wind generation in Europe, and in the future, as technology improves, for offshore renewable energy.  The draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) submitted to the EU and published yesterday (19.12.18) made a number of commitments for 2030 in relation to electricity generation and use, including the following:

  • Renewables in our power system will rise from 30% to at least 55% with a broader range of technologies likely to be deployed, e.g. offshore wind, solar, biomass
  • Coal and peat will be removed from electricity generation which will almost halve the emissions from the electricity sector.
  • Penetration of electric vehicles into our transport fleet will build to around 20%.

These will all have a significant impact on how we will generate and use electricity.  It is therefore useful to understand the current pattern of generation and demand in the Region before considering options for the future.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has recently conducted[1] a review of electricity transmission infrastructure in the Western Region. It examined current and future needs for transmission infrastructure in the Region, and considered how increased renewable electricity generation, along with new ways of using and managing electricity and new methods of improving the use of existing transmission infrastructure might impact on need for investment.  We have published a summary of its findings in WDCInsights Electricity Transmission for Renewable Generation- What’s needed in the Western Region?

In this post the focus is on current and future renewable generation connections in the Region.  Next year, when we have had the opportunity to review the draft NECP and consider the “all-of-Government” Climate Action Plan to be completed in early 2019, it will be clearer what renewable generation connections will be required further into the future, and from that, what further transmission investment will be important.

 

Electricity Generation in the Western Region

The Western Region already has a significant connected renewable generation; almost half of the generation in the Region is renewable (Figure 1).  There is 1,371MW of conventional generation. This capacity is mainly across Moneypoint coal fired power station in West Co. Clare (863MW), Tynagh gas fired power station in East Co. Galway (404MW) and Tawnaghmore oil fired peaking plant in North Co. Mayo (104MW). In 2017 these power stations generated 4,390 GWh, which was approximately 15% of the national demand in 2017.

Figure 1: Generation in the Western Region

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

There is 165MW of hydro generation in the WDC region. This capacity is mainly at Ardnacrusha hydro station in Co. Clare (86MW) and the Erne stations (65MW) in Co. Donegal.  On shore wind generation makes up the rest of the renewable electricity generation in the Region (the locations are discussed further below).

In the future with the ending of coal fired generation as committed to in the draft National Energy and Climate Plan, the vast majority of renewable electricity generation in the Western Region will come from onshore wind and other developing sources including solar and potentially offshore wind and marine generation.

 

Demand and Generation connections in the Western Region

There is substantially higher capacity of both renewable and conventional generation compared to demand in the region.  Renewable generation currently connected (1,343MW) produces approximately 3,750GWh of renewable electricity. Considering total peak demand of 651MW and assuming the nation-wide demand capacity factor of 65%, the total demand in region is approximately 3,700GWh.  It can be concluded that on an annual basis the Western Region is currently producing enough renewable generation to meet 100% of its own demand.   By 2020 the Region will definitely be a net provider of renewable electricity to the rest of Ireland making a significant contribution to the 2020 RES-E targets.

Figure 2 shows the levels of connected renewable generation in the region (1,343MW) and conventional generation (1,371MW) as discussed above.   Maximum demand (at peak) was estimated by MullanGrid as 651 MW with minimum demand 164MW.

Figure 2: Current Generation and Demand in the Western Region

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

By 2020 there could be approximately 1,760MW of renewable generation connected in the WDC region, 1,595MW of wind generation and 165MW of hydro generation. There is a further 1,000MW of renewable generation in the WDC region that will have contracted or been offered connections by mid-2019 (as shown in Figure 2 above) and there is 173MW of further potential on shore wind connections in the short term (as allocated under the Enduring Connection Policy Phase 1 (ECP-1)). Clearly the potential for renewable generation and the opportunities the Region provides are significant.

 

Generation and Demand at County level

It is interesting to look briefly at the patterns of generation and demand at county level in the Western Region (Figure 3).  Donegal, which has the third largest connected capacity of on shore wind generation in Ireland, is clearly significant force in the Region’s transition to renewable electricity.

It currently has 480 MW of connected renewable generation with significant hydro generation (75MW) and 405MW capacity of wind generation with a further 254MW of contracted generation.  Galway and Clare and the next most important counties for renewable generation, with Ardnacrusha making a significant contribution (86MW) in Clare, while most of Galway’s renewable generation (286MW) from wind.  These counties have high levels of contracted wind generation which will be connected in the short term.   Mayo currently has 83MW of connected wind capacity  but has 406MW of contracted generation to be connected.

Figure 3: Generation and Demand in Western Region counties

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

In all Western Region counties currently connected renewable generation is well above the average county demand[2].  Table 1 below gives the detail of the connected, contracted and ECP-1 capacity in each county in the Western Region alongside the estimated demand in each county (although Sligo and Leitrim are considered together).

Table 1: Connected, Contracted and future renewable generation and Demand in Western Region counties.

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

 

Transmission Capacity

The transmission system has been essential in enabling the Western Region to achieve these relatively high levels of renewable generation.  There has been substantial investment in the transmission network in the Region[3] the majority of which, recently, has been in upgrading the existing electricity transmission network to provide additional capacity.  However, to allow for the continued growth of renewable generation in the Region, further investment in new transmission infrastructure is required.

There is capacity in the current transmission system for more renewable generation in areas of the Western Region including large parts of Co. Roscommon, Co. Clare and Co. Galway.  However there is concern about the pace and scale of development of new transmission circuits elsewhere in the Region.  The areas of particular concern in the medium term are Co. Donegal and North Mayo.  In Donegal, by 2022, it is expected that the connected renewable generation will have exceeded the capacity of the existing transmission system.  While the planned North Connacht project[4] will provide critical infrastructure for currently connected and some of the planned renewable generation in development in North Mayo/West Sligo, it will not provide ffor further renewable generation in the area. In the medium to long term there could also be a need for new transmission circuits to Co. Sligo/Co. Leitrim. Considering the extended timelines (at least 10 years) to deliver new transmission infrastructure it is essential to take a long-term view of the generation needs and potential in these areas.

It is important that there is a three-pronged approach to developing the transmission grid in the Region:

  1. Upgrading existing transmission infrastructure;
  2. New transmission infrastructure;
  3. Implementing smart grid solutions.

Although new transmission infrastructure is the most challenging to deliver it is critical for the development of more renewable generation in the Region.  Other factors that will impact on growth of renewable generation are the planning process and the public acceptance of onshore wind generation. Recent new transmission projects have faced strong local opposition and a lack of local political support.

To achieve long term ambitious climate action increased renewable electricity generation will be essential. Therefore further investment in transmission grid with sufficient capacity for new generation connections is crucial.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] The Electricity Transmission Infrastructure Review for the Western Development Commission was conducted by MullanGrid Consulting.

[2] This is a simple average of minimum and maximum demand.

[3] EirGrid and ESB Networks, regulated by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), invest in and develop the electricity grid.

[4] http://www.eirgridgroup.com/the-grid/projects/north-connacht/the-project/

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

City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions- Conference Report

The Regional Studies Association Irish Branch Annual Conference was held in the Institute of Technology Sligo on Friday 7th September.  Appropriate for the location, it had the theme “City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions”.  The presentations are available here.

Figure 1: Dr Chris O’Malley from Sligo IT

The conference covered a range of themes relating to regional development and how urban areas interact with their rural regions.  It was opened by Dr Chris O’Malley from Sligo IT who discussed the role of Sligo IT in the development of industry and manufacturing in the region and the IT’s role as an integrator of national policy at regional level.  Dr Deirdre Garvey, chairperson of the Western Development Commission, welcomed delegates to the conference noting how pleased the WDC was to be sponsoring the Annual Conference.  She also welcomed the fact that the conference was taking place in the North West, given the recognition in the National Planning Framework of the specific challenges for the region and how the National Planning Framework (NPF) and Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) process highlight the distinct challenges and opportunities for our predominantly rural region.

These addresses were followed by a very interesting session on the history of Irish planning over the last 50 years.  Dr Proinnsias Breathnach (Maynooth University) presented on regional development policy following the 1968 Buchanan report and its impact on industry locations and spatial development.  Dr Breathnach also presented the paper by Prof. Jim Walsh (Maynooth University) who was unable to attend the conference.  He examined the influence of both the Buchanan report and the 2002 National Spatial Strategy, considered the learnings from these and the factors which will influence the success of the National Planning Framework process.  Finally in this session, Prof. Des McCafferty (University of Limerick) presented on the structural and spatial evolution of the Irish urban hierarchy since Buchanan, and examined urban population data over time and the distribution of population across the settlement hierarchy.  He noted that it was important to understand changes projected by the NPF in the context of historic trends

Figure 2: Dr Proinnsias Breathnach (Maynooth University), Prof. Des McCafferty (University of Limerick) and Deirdre Frost (WDC)

After coffee the session on Regional Strategy and Planning covered a broad range of topics.  Louis Nuachi (DIT) presented on the importance of social and cultural objectives in town planning using a case study of planning in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.  David Minton, the CEO of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) discussed issues for the development of the North and West in the RSES, some of the historic development of the region and a number of the challenges in developing a region wide approach.  Finally in that session, John Nugent (IDA) discussed the IDA role in attracting Foreign Direct Investment to the region and some of the important factors which influence the location of FDI, including the importance of having a strong indigenous sector already in place and the ways the indigenous and foreign sectors are mutually beneficial.

After lunch international perspectives were provided by Dr Andrew Copus from the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and Professor Mark Partridge, the C. William Swank Chair of Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University.

Dr Copus paper  The Scottish City Region Deals – A rural development perspective noted that optimistic assumptions about how a wider functional region benefits from city investments, are commonplace and generally unquestioned, despite meagre evidence of such impacts.   He discussed the two strands of ideas on policy for urban rural development that of polycentricity and rural urban co-operation (theories which are stronger in EU countries and in OECD work), and City Regions (which have tended to have more focus in the UK).  He highlighted the importance of defining what is meant by rural when considering the impact of such regional policies and  he discussed the development and implementation of regional policy by the Scottish and UK governments in Scotland.

He noted that in general in these deals the dominant rationale relates more to “Smart Specialisation” than to any kind of urban rural cooperation, interaction or spread effect concept, but the way growth deals developing for rural areas of Scotland will fit into the Post Brexit rural development landscape remains to be seen.

Figure 3: Audience at the conference

Prof. Mark Partridge’s paper Is there a future for Rural in an Urbanizing World and Should We Care? noted how rural areas have received increased attention with the rise of right-wing populist parties in Western countries, in which a strong part of their support is rural based. Thus, bridging this rural-urban economic divide takes on added importance in not only improving the individual livelihoods of rural residents but in increasing social cohesion.

He discussed the background of rural and peripheral economic growth, noting the United States is a good place to examine these due its spatial heterogeneity.   He showed that, contrary to public perceptions, in the US urban areas do not entirely dominate rural areas in terms of growth.  Rural US counties with greater shares of knowledge workers grow faster than metro areas (even metros with knowledge workers).

He had some clear suggestions for regional policy, noting that governance should shift from separate farm/rural/urban policies to a regional policy though a key issue is to get all actors to participate and believe their input is valued. In rural development it is important to leverage local social capital and networks to promote good governance and to treat all businesses alike and avoid “picking winners.  Rural communities should be attractive to knowledge workers and commuters, while quality of life, pleasant environment, sustainable development; good public services such as schools are important to attract return migrants.  Building local entrepreneurship is key too and business retention and expansion is better than tax incentives for outside investment.

Figure 4: Dr Chris Van Egeraat (Maynooth University)

In the final session ‘Understanding Regional and Urban Dynamics’ I gave a presentation on what regional accounts can tell up about our regional economies and discussed some of the issues associated with the regional data and the widening of disparities among regions.  Dr Chris Van Egeraat (Maynooth University) presented a paper, written with Dr Justin Doran (UCC) which used a similar method to Prof. Partridge to estimate trickle down effects of Irish Urban centres and how they influence the population in their wider regions.  Finally Prof. Edgar Morgenroth (DCU) presented on the impacts of improvements in transport accessibility across Ireland highlighting some of the changes in accessibility over time and noted that despite these changes human capital is the most important factor influencing an area’s development.

While the conference had smaller attendance than previous years there was good audience participation and discussion of the themes.  The conference papers are now available on the WDC website here and will shortly be available on the RSA website.

 

Helen McHenry

Issues for the Western Region’s SMEs

The WDC recently made a submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on the important topic of Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Ireland.

In our submission we highlighted that the Western Region is a predominantly rural region with 65% of the population living in rural areas (outside centres of 1,500).  Trends in the location of FDI investments, especially in the period of the recovery, have shown increasing concentration in Ireland’s cities and their hinterlands, although this year has seen greater distribution (e.g. to Sligo) as Dublin’s cost of living and housing shortages drive multinationals to seek other locations. Regardless of this however, FDI is only one element of job and enterprise growth and is not the solution for the vast majority of the Western Region.  Therefore supporting the start-up, expansion and viability of Irish indigenous SMEs is at the core of both the region and Ireland’s future growth.

Indeed the important role of SMEs in regional development will be among the topics discussed at this Friday’s Regional Studies Association Annual Conference at IT Sligo, on the theme City-Led Development & Peripheral Regions.  International keynote speakers Professor Mark Partridge (US) and Dr Andrew Copus (Scotland) will be joined by academics and policymakers from Ireland to consider how (or indeed if) a ‘city-region’ regional policy approach can really bring benefits for peripheral regions and rural areas. Register now

SMEs in the Western Region

In 2016 there were 54,410 enterprises registered in the seven-county Western Region, and only 50 of these were large (250+) enterprises.[1]  Next week the WDC will publish a new WDC Insights publication examining enterprise data for the Western Region.

In our submission, we noted that SMEs located in the Western Region, including those in small and medium-sized towns, villages and rural areas, face some specific challenges:

  • Small local markets and distance from larger markets;
  • Poor transport connectivity (for staff and freight) with no motorway in the Western Region north of Tuam and often poor quality local and regional roads linking to primary and secondary routes;
  • Weaker broadband infrastructure (access and speed) constraining online operations;
  • Poor mobile phone coverage for voice calls and data;
  • Difficulties in identifying and recruiting suitably qualified staff, especially at senior managerial and technical levels;
  • Lack of regional seed and early stage venture capital funders;
  • Declining populations in some areas, especially in the economically active (and higher spending) age categories;
  • Reduced activity and footfall in smaller town centres with the growth of online retail and improved transport access to larger urban centres offering greater retail and service choice;
  • Isolation and lack of networking opportunities;
  • For SMEs based around Galway city, traffic congestion can be a major constraint;
  • SMEs in Border counties and throughout the Western Region currently face uncertainty regarding the implications of BREXIT. After March 2019 there may be very significant impacts on their businesses.  These smaller businesses are most vulnerable, lacking staff and resources to change and develop in response to changes in their commercial relationships with the UK.

The submission then goes on to set out some specific policy recommendations on access to finance, recruitment and retention of suitably qualified staff and infrastructure.

Read the full submission here.

Pauline White

 

[1] CSO (2018), Business Demography 2016

Exploring Energy Infrastructure: Natural gas connections and use

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has recently commissioned a study of wider costs and benefits of the extension of the natural gas grid (see here for more information).  The WDC welcomes the commissioning of this study, as quality energy networks are important elements of the essential infrastructure required to underpin and stimulate economic development of the Western Region, much of which currently does not have access to the gas network.  Figure 1 below show Gas Networks Ireland’s pipeline map, which highlights the lack of connection to towns in the North West.

Figure 1: Natural Gas Pipeline map

The WDC has long advocated the extension of the natural gas network to towns in the North West of Ireland and made the case in some detail the 2011 study Why invest in gas?.  A natural gas network is, in many situations, an essential infrastructure without which a region may struggle to develop.  Towns connected to the natural gas grid have the reduced energy costs over the longer term resulting in greater competitiveness for businesses, as well as greater attractiveness for new industry which may choose to locate in towns with natural gas.

Where natural gas has become available large users (e.g. Allergan in Westport, Baxter Healthcare in Castlebar) quickly switched to natural gas. As the gas grid expands nationally and more consumers (both industrial and domestic) gain access, the availability of natural gas will be taken for granted. Lack of gas infrastructure may become a disincentive to investment, reducing a region’s competitiveness and increasing existing disparities.  As Gas Networks Ireland notes:

Industry depends on natural gas and gas availability is a key criteria for international companies when they are deciding where to invest. Having natural gas supplied to a town enhances its attractiveness and opportunities for growth and job creation. Many large employers in Ireland are also large users of natural gas.

Thus the WDC sees natural gas as a key enabling infrastructure for economic development of the North West.  It is therefore useful to understand natural gas connections and natural gas consumption in more connected parts of the Western Region and in other parts of Ireland.

Where is networked gas used?

The CSO provides detailed data on networked gas consumption, by type of user and by county.  The map below (Figure 2) shows the locations of residential metered connections across Ireland, and provides a very clear indication of the urban nature of the connections.

Figure 2: Location of Residential meters

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

Of the seven Western Region counties three (Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim) have no networked natural gas connection and Roscommon only has connections in the Monksland part of Athlone (a total of 72 residential connections and 2 non-residential connections (see Table 1 below, Western Region counties in bold)).  Galway, Mayo and Clare have more extensive networks.  Both Galway (6,795) and Clare (4,797) have significant numbers of residential connections while Mayo has fewer than 713.  Residential connections are most likely to be made when new houses are built, and many of the towns in Mayo were just connected as the rapid housing construction of the early part of the century slowed down.

Table 1: Number of Meters by County for Non-Residential and Residential Sectors 2016

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

Mayo has a significant proportion of non-residential connections (Figure 1 below); in fact it has the highest percentage of non-residential connections of all counties (with the exception of Wexford where dwellings only began to be connected in late 2016).

The CSO publication shows the proportion of networked gas used in power plants (62%), non-residential (24%) and residential (13%) in 2016.  Details of power plant consumption are not available by county but it is interesting to compare residential and non-residential consumption for each county with the proportions of the two different connection types.  Clearly non-residential consumption per meter will, in most instances, be higher than residential consumption but, as Figure 3 shows, there is significant variation in this across counties (Western Region counties are in green).  This is largely dependent of the type of non-residential users connected in the different counties.  The CSO intends in future to add NACE codes to the non-residential connection records in order to provide a more detailed analysis of non-domestic customers.  This will be very useful giving better understanding of the types of non-residential users.

Figure 3: Percentage meters which are Non Residential Meters and Percentage of consumption which is Non Residential 2016

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

While a quarter of meters in Mayo are non-residential, they account for 98% of the consumption.  In many more rural counties (Mayo, Cavan, Monaghan, Kilkenny and Tipperary) non-residential consumption can be very significant (over 85% of all consumption in the counties named above).  This is in contrast to Dublin, Laois, Meath and Wicklow where non-residential consumption was 51% or less of total consumption.

Figure 4: Natural gas Consumption by County Non Residential and Residential (Gigawatt Hours)

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

As these are gross consumption figures, and are of course dependent on the number and type of connections, there is very significant variation.  Not surprisingly the ‘Dublin Postal District’ has the highest level of both residential and non-residential consumption.  This area has more 12,294 non-residential connections (Table 1) which is significantly larger than Cork which has the next largest number of non-residential connections (3,497) and it can be inferred that many of the non-residential connections in this area are smaller commercial premises and not larger process users. This is borne out by average consumption per connection for each county in Figure 5 below. Roscommon (which has very few connections in a very small part of the county (75 in total)) and Wexford, which has very recently been connected (8 connections in this data) have been excluded.

As discussed above, Cork has a very significant total non-residential consumption (3,154 GWh) but only comes in sixth place for average consumption per non-residential connection shown in Figure 3.

Figure 5: Average Non Residential Consumption per meter (2016)

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

Cavan has only 114 non-residential connections but among them are some very significant gas users.  It has the highest average non-residential consumption per connection, and indeed this has grown significantly (by 53%) since 2011.  Wexford has a small number of large users (whose consumption justified making the network connection in recent years) while other quite rural counties show high levels of consumption per connection (non-residential).  In some cases (Mayo, for example, this is closely associated with high tech industry use of process heat, but significant agri-food processing in other rural counties are likely to contribute to the high average demand per connection.   In contrast, Wicklow, Dublin and Meath have generally low average consumption per connection.

While much of the variation in non-residential consumption will depend on types of connections and the type of activity being carried out, residential consumption levels are more comparable and Figure 6 below shows median consumption by county.

Figure 6: Networked Gas Median Consumption by County for Residential Sector 2016

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

According to the CSO[1] the median consumption can be regarded as typical usage as it is not influenced by outliers in the same way as the average is.  Median residential consumption varies from 10,910 in Meath to 6,686 kWh in Mayo (Wexford has been excluded from the chart as it has only 3 residential connections).  This large variation suggests that residences in Meath are using 63% more natural gas than residences in Mayo. It is not clear what is causing this variation but lower median consumption in counties like Mayo may indicate a higher proportion of other fuels being used for heating.  Given the very significant variation in median use this is certainly an area for further investigation.

Roscommon which only has 75 residential connections in the west of Athlone also shows high median levels of consumption, but this may relate to the characteristics of the housing connected or the greater incentive for larger residential users to switch to natural gas to save on the cost of energy.

Conclusion

The importance of natural gas connections in many counties is shown by the meter and consumption data.  Clearly there are some very significant natural gas users outside cities often associated with agri food processing.

The IDA has significant targets for investment in the regions and meeting these targets could give rise to additional commercial demand in urban centres not currently connected.  Indeed the IDA strategy notes in relation to its development of utility intensive strategic sites, that these require significant capital investment in utilities including natural gas.  The most recent GNI development plan highlights:

Natural gas as a clean, secure, low cost energy source is a key driver of job creation and economic growth. Industry depends on natural gas and gas availability is a key criteria for international companies when they are deciding where to invest. Having natural gas supplied to a town enhances its attractiveness and opportunities for growth and job creation. Many large employers in Ireland are also large users of natural gas.

This regional development effect needs to be measured when assessing the development of a natural gas network.  Furthermore, in addition to commercial demand, residential users can be important.  The DCCAE study, being carried out by KPMG, is not examining any one particular place, but under the Draft National Planning Framework- Ireland 2040 (NPF) there are targets for significant population growth in larger towns and cities including ones which do not currently have access to natural gas.  Both Sligo and Letterkenny (neither of which have networked gas) are targeted to have 40% increase in population by 2040 (both to increase to 27,000) and, given the emphasis on consolidation of urban centres in the NPF, it is expected that this additional population will be accommodated in these towns and should be ideal for  compact distribution networks.

With this in mind,  it is likely that the important of natural gas as a key regional infrastructure will be recognised in the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the North West Region  (which is currently in preparation by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly).

____________________________________

[1] See Background Notes to Networked Gas Consumption publication (CSO, 2016)

Capital Infrastructure priorities – Broadband remains top of the list!

Engineers Ireland recently published The State of Ireland 2017, which focuses on the state of Ireland’s infrastructure and the extent to which it is fit for purpose. This is timely as the Government are in the process of considering the capital infrastructure priorities to be funded over the next few years.

This State of Ireland 2017 report, download here (3.4MB), is the seventh in a series of annual independent reports, on the state of the country’s infrastructure, informed by panel discussions and expert advisory groups.

This year’s report focuses on two key sectors, transport and communications though the report also makes separate recommendations on the infrastructure areas of energy, water supply and wastewater; flood management, water quality and waste infrastructure.

Transport

Ireland’s transport system was awarded a ‘C’ grade – meaning it is of mediocre standard: It is inadequately maintained, and / or unable to meet peak demand, and requiring significant investment. The report notes that investment in Ireland’s transport infrastructure is simply too low to support economic growth and jobs and more investment is needed to reduce congestion and increase sustainability.

Communications

The WDC was a member of the Communications Advisory Group which considered the coverage and connectivity of Ireland’s communications network and how Ireland’s communications network rates with the country’s needs.

As is evident from the report, unlike any other infrastructure considered, the quality of the broadband and communications network was graded spatially. A different grade was awarded depending on whether the infrastructure was located in urban, intermediate urban or remote rural areas which highlights the different quality of the infrastructure depending on location.

The urban areas are classed as the five major cities of Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. Intermediate urban areas are those other urban areas and surrounding townlands. The third category, rural including remote rural are the hinterlands of towns and remote locations.

Considering the question How would you rate Ireland’s communications network with the country’s needs, urban and intermediate urban were awarded a ‘B’ grade, whereas rural areas were awarded  ‘D’, conveying a poor, below standard poorly maintained, frequent inability to meet capacity and requiring immediate investment to avoid adverse impact on the national economy. The report notes that in rural and remote rural areas, State intervention is needed and the Government’s NBP programme must intervene for 542,000 premises representing 21% or one million of the national population.

For those of us who have long advocated that intervention is needed and that the National Broadband Plan needs to be implemented speedily and comprehensively, none of the report’s finding are a surprise. However the fact that the Communications Advisory Group, composed of companies such as the main telecoms providers, the telecoms regulator and Google among others, highlights the universal agreement that investment is needed as a matter of urgency.

Census 2016

Elsewhere, publication of Census 2016 data provides county data on broadband use in households.

Census 2016 Summary Results Part 1 Section 9, download here (1.1MB) shows the increasing take-up of broadband nationally, from 20% in 2006 to 70.7% in 2016.

The report also highlights the rural – urban divide where 61.1% of households in rural areas have a broadband connection compared to 76.2% of urban households. Looking at counties in the Western Region, all have a broadband rate lower than the state average of 70.7%, apart from Galway city, see Fig 1 below. Leitrim and Roscommon have the lowest broadband rates across the Region with 58% and 59.8% respectively.

Fig 1. Percentage of households with broadband internet access, Western counties 2006-2016

The National Broadband Plan

These same counties are relatively poorly served with broadband infrastructure. As the State of Ireland 2017 report shows the more rural areas are often the least well served. Under the National Broadband Plan the Western Region counties are among those requiring the most state intervention in rolling out high speed broadband networks. While 23% of premises nationally will be included in the National Broadband Plan ‘Intervention Area’, the rate is much higher across the Western Region with an average of 36.5% of all premises. Counties such as Roscommon and Leitrim are particularly dependent on the National Broadband Plan with 48% and 51% of premises respectively in the NBP Intervention area. The state intervention area in the other counties of the Western Region extends to 44% of premises in Mayo, 36% in Sligo, 34% in Donegal, 34% in Clare and 29% in Galway.

How Ireland Compares Internationally

Data recently released from the OECD highlights the need for urgent investment in Ireland’s fibre based broadband infrastructure. As Figure 2 below shows, Ireland is nearly at the bottom of the pile for the percentage of fibre connections as a share of total broadband subscriptions.

Fig 2. Percentage of fibre connections in total broadband subscriptions, December 2016

Located 4th from the bottom of OECD countries, this data published in July 2017 relates to December 2016 and there is likely to be an improvement since then, however the relative position of Ireland in the OECD group shows how far we are from being in the top tier. Without a doubt, investment in fibre connectivity throughout the country is needed. These data and additional comparative data across the OECD are available for download here.

 

Deirdre Frost