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Transport, Aviation, Ten-T and Project Ireland 2040

Submission to Review of TEN-T

The Department of Transport has recently published its submission to the European Commission on proposed revisions of the TEN-T network see here.

The Department advocate for the inclusion of the Atlantic seaboard region of Ireland on the TEN-T Core Network, which the WDC welcomes. In his submission, Minister Ross provides the national policy context, in particular noting the overarching objectives of Project Ireland 2040.

We need to manage more balanced growth … because at the moment Dublin, and to a lesser extent the wider Eastern and Midland area, has witnessed an over concentration of population, homes and jobs. We cannot let this continue unchecked and so our aim is to see a roughly 50:50 distribution of growth between the Eastern and Midland region, and the Southern and Northern and Western regions, with 75% of the growth to be outside of Dublin and its suburbs[1].

One of the key objectives of the NPF is to move away from ‘business as usual’ and to redirect growth to other areas. In making the case for inclusion of the Atlantic seaboard region of Ireland in the Ten-T Core Network, Minister Ross also notes the adverse impacts of Brexit noting that,

Continued EU support for transport investment projects in Ireland will become even more important in the context of Brexit, after which our peripheral location on the western point of Europe will leave us even more isolated from other EU Member States. While Project Ireland 2040 aims to highlight the actions, including capital investment, required to strengthen the Northern and Western Regions and mitigate the adverse effects of the UKs exit from the EU which are expected to impact disproportionately on this area, its inclusion on the Ten-T Core Network would result in further Irish projects being eligible to apply for Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) funding, thereby contributing to the balanced development of our regions….

Policy and funding alignment

While the WDC welcomes the views expressed by the Department of Transport in relation to inclusion of the Atlantic seaboard region in the Ten-T Core network, in reality, for funding to follow from Europe, the Department of Transport needs to prioritise funding for Atlantic Economic Corridor Transport projects. So, for example the Capital Investment Plan allied to the NPF identifies transport projects for investment in the AEC region but many of these are not planned to occur until towards the end of the 10-year period, unlike other projects which are prioritised in the next few years.

The WDC have argued following publication of the NPF 2040, that if sectoral policies are not aligned to support the objectives of Ireland 2040 then Ireland 2040 is likely to fail. The National Aviation Policy (2015) predates the publication and consideration of Ireland 2040. The National Aviation Policy can be seen to unduly reinforce the dominance of the larger airports (Dublin in particular).  Now that the NPF is Government Policy, the National Aviation Policy should be reviewed and reassessed in light of the overarching objectives of the NPF and the need to ensure sectoral alignment. In the absence of such reviews it is difficult to see how development can move away from a ‘business as usual’ approach and how the NPF can achieve its targets. It is sectoral planning and policy that is the real driver of spatial and regional development.

 Aviation trends

As the WDC pointed out in its Submission on Future Airports Capacity Needs at Ireland’s State Airports see here, the West and North West region in particular has relatively poor accessibility by air, which is the preferred transport mode for international access.

The CSO Aviation statistics, Quarter 4 and year 2018, see here, highlight the trend of the increasing concentration of air passengers travelling through Dublin airport compared to other airports. For example, in 2014, Dublin accounted for 81.9% of all passengers (Total = 26.5 million), compared to 85.6% in 2018 (Total = 36.6 million). This represents an increase of 9.6 million passengers in 4 years, a 44.2% increase. So along with a significant increase in total air passenger numbers, there is an ever-increasing share travelling through Dublin airport.

This ever-increasing concentration is of concern to those supporting exporters. For example, the

IEA submission to the Draft National Planning Framework noted that of those IEA members surveyed who use airports to export, 81% use Dublin airport predominantly as their primary route to ship goods out of Ireland. 15% said that this was not the closest airport geographically. Members surveyed said that they would use a different Irish airport as their primary route to ship goods from Ireland if:

  • There were more frequent flights from another airport – 36%
  • Road networks between primary distribution centre and another airport were improved – 23%
  • Another airport was upgraded – 14%

The implementation of hub connectivity from the west of Ireland directly into Heathrow or another European hub airport (example Schiphol or Frankfurt) would significantly enhance business connectivity and attractiveness to locate in the west of Ireland[2].

The WDC considers that with Dublin Airport, operating at or near capacity, cost-efficient and accessible alternatives to Dublin are required. Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock are important transport centres enabling the international success of businesses in Ireland’s West and North West.

The WDC believes that there needs to be consideration of how the other State airports, in particular Shannon (given the remit of the WDC) can be more effectively supported through policy changes to deliver on the regional growth targets of the NPF.

 Role of ‘Regional Airports’

Similarly, the WDC believe that the role of regional airports has to be reviewed in light of the NPF and its regional population and employment targets. The Department of Transport is currently conducting a consultation on the Preparation of new Regional Airports Programme 2020 to 2024.

The Regional Airports Programme provides for funding to regional airports to help them deliver on their goal as outlined in the National Aviation Policy. Recognising the relative difficulty which smaller airports have in both meeting operating costs and attracting and retaining air services, the Department provides support under different funding mechanisms. These funding schemes are governed by EU guidelines on State aid some of which apply to airports handling up to 3 million passengers per year.

As the consultation document highlights, all regional airports are not equal! While passenger numbers at all four regional airports are less than 1 million annually, three of four have less than 400,000. The exception is Ireland West Airport Knock which has had annual passenger numbers in excess of 700,000 for the last three years. This is because Ireland West Airport Knock essentially serves the same purpose for its region (the North West) as the State airports perform in the Mid-West, South-West and East respectively. National aviation policy needs to fully recognise the international transport function Ireland West Airport Knock provides, ensuring direct international air services to a region much of which is not in the catchment of the other international airports, Dublin, Cork and Shannon.

The WDC believes that the road improvements planned for the North West will help support greater traffic through Ireland West Airport, which in turn will allow Ireland West Airport Knock perform a key role in supporting the Government’s wider/broader policy objectives of delivering the population and employment targets for the Northern & Western Region under Project Ireland 2040. The road improvements must be prioritised.

Similarly, Shannon Airport with passenger numbers under 3 million (and therefore eligible for capital support without prior EU State approval) can help deliver the objectives of Project Ireland 2040, to enable the cities of Limerick and Galway on the Western seaboard, to each grow by at least 50% to 2040 and to enhance their significant potential to also become cities of scale[3].

All sectoral policy areas, in this case – EU TEN-T, National Aviation Policy and the Regional Airports Programme – highlight the importance of an overarching policy framework, to which all other policies should be aligned in so far as possible. Without alignment, delivery on the overarching policy objective of Project Ireland 2040, is unlikely.

 

Deirdre Frost

 

[1] Project Ireland 2040, NPF, 2018, p.11

[2] http://npf.ie/wp-content/uploads/0725-Irish-Exporters-Association.compressed.pdf

[3] https://www.gov.ie/pdf/?file=https://assets.gov.ie/166/310818095340-Project-Ireland-2040-NPF.pdf#page=1 p.22.

WDC submission to the Public Consultation on the development of the trans European transport network (TEN-T)

Introduction

Since 1993 the EU holds responsibility on infrastructure policy – in the fields of transport, energy and telecommunications. In the transport sector, Europe’s TEN-T policy aims to boost economic, social and territorial cohesion between all Member States and their regions. It aims to prevent obstacles to the free circulation of goods, services and citizens throughout the EU.

Developments over the last few years which impact on transport policy include;

  • Climate change
  • Automation
  • Digitalisation
  • Interconnection and interoperability
  • Brexit

As a result, the European Commission has decided to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the guidelines for the development of the TEN-T and have undertaken a public consultation. The WDC submitted a response which is available for download on the Submissions page of the WDC website, see here.  In this blogpost we summarise some of the key points.

The importance of transport infrastructure policy at EU level

EU transport infrastructure policy is crucial to ensure that transport infrastructure & policy contributes to enhancing the connectivity & accessibility of outermost & peripheral regions.

In parts of the Western Region of Ireland, geographic peripherality is compounded by relatively poor transport infrastructure which militates against effective participation in the EU Single market. This will be exacerbated further after Brexit.

EU transport policy is critical to support the transport needs to peripheral island member states such as Ireland & its Western Region. The Irish Exporters Association has noted that the transport needs of exporters in the West & Mid-West would be better served by ports & airports located there.

What are the benefits if infrastructure policy is made at European level

One of the benefits will be to support, guide & enhance member states’ transport policy. In Ireland’s case some aspects need to be revised in order to support the broader policy framework of Project Ireland 2040. For example, the National Ports Policy (2013) & National Aviation Policy (2015) were devised well before publication of Project Ireland 2040 which seeks to balance growth more effectively across Irish regions & will need regional transport investment to enable this. This will require EU support for funding.

In view of the cross-border nature of transport infrastructure, policies & subsequent investments should be harmonized in order to address existing bottlenecks to keep the Union accessible and competitive. This is very important in view of Brexit for Rep. of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

A coordinated approach at EU level is the most effective way to address challenges such as the transition to a carbon-neutral economy & the subsequent investment in the required infrastructure.

Form of the TEN-T network

The comprehensive TEN-T network is not sufficiently connected with the core network since there still exist missing links. The current network also does not serve all EU regions, including the North Western region of Ireland, whose importance will grow in the face of Brexit and the uptake of renewable energies.

There is concern that designation on the Comprehensive network, compared to the Core, provides for less access to TEN-T funding. In the context of peripheral regions such as the Western Region of Ireland where there is a ‘need to ensure connectivity & accessibility of all regions in the Union’, it is important that designation does not alter the level of funding available.

The inclusion of Shannon and Ireland West Knock airports and ports such as Galway & Killybegs as nodes is important in the context of the Atlantic Economic Corridor which extends from Letterkenny/Derry south to Limerick & Kerry.

The EU Designation on the core TEN-T network, as currently defined on the island of Ireland, extends from Belfast to Dublin to Cork with a connection to Shannon Foynes port. Given its peripherality, the WDC would like to see the transport links north of Shannon Foynes, and particularly from Galway north to Sligo and Letterkenny (the Atlantic Economic Corridor – AEC) to be included in those TEN-T classifications which provides for the maximum sources of funding support from the EU.

There is a need to join existing networks together & complete ‘unfinished sections’. The priority should be to improve the outstanding road sections between Tuam & Sligo as this is a key element of the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) and part of Irish Government policy. This network is even more important in the context of Border traffic and Brexit and the peripherality of the North west.

Also, the WDC urges the European Commission to take into consideration the added economic value of airports & ports, such Shannon & Knock airports & the further development of the Galway inner port & its future potential o to play a key role in the development of renewable energies and alternative fuels.

In the absence of investment, the relative standard of a transport network vis a vis another transport network which does attract funding is a relative disimprovement & therefore the region experiences a relative disadvantage in access. This should not be the effect of policy.

Infrastructure Use

The TEN-T guidelines specifically aim to achieve a better and more efficient use of existing and new infrastructure while increasing the benefits for the users.

Despite overall passenger growth, there is an ever-increasing share of passengers travelling through Dublin airport which is in part due to the investment in motorway access there. There is un-used capacity available for international access at Shannon & Ireland West Airport Knock which have received significant state support over decades. Improved services at these airports will reduce the need for residents in regional locations to avail of services at Dublin Airport which in turn will reduce journey numbers through an already congested Greater Dublin Area.

These airports provide efficient access both to & from the region to destinations in the UK, Europe and the US vital to supporting the various businesses across the region as well as tourism access. Shannon Airport is particularly important to the Limerick, Shannon and Galway regions and is the only airport on the Western seaboard with hub connectivity via London Heathrow. It also offers pre-clearance facilities to the US. The Irish Exporters Association has reported that exporters in the West & Mid-West would be much better served from the ports and airports there rather than at Dublin.

The Western Region’s many valuable marine assets are relatively under-developed. The port facilities at Galway & Killybegs & Sligo are critical to supporting potential in seafood products, tourism, amenity, ocean renewable energy & marine innovations for the lifesciences sector & need to be enhanced.

Freight facilities at ports, railway depots & interurban road/motorway junctions should be safeguarded & invested in. Brexit will likely lead to new freight transport routes which need to be supported.

Conclusions

Transport policy is an important tool of economic policy. In Ireland there is a Government policy commitment to rebalance growth away from ‘business as usual’ and to support greater population growth in the regions including the West & North West. For this to be achieved there needs to be investment in transport infrastructure especially along the Atlantic Economic Corridor. The WDC believes that EU support and TENT-T classification can help in delivering greater investment in transport infrastructure along this corridor.

In an Irish context there is an increasing concentration of traffic through Dublin Port and Airport which in turn demands additional new investment to allow expansion of services. Meanwhile there are port and airport facilities, as well as road and rail capacity with much spare capacity which could service existing and new demand.

EU policy should more effectively support member states to capitalise on the capacity already available and ‘sweat’ the state investment already made, such as the rail network, port facilities in the Western Region including Galway and the international airports such as Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock.  This is especially as this is consistent & supportive of the overarching policy framework of Project Ireland 2040.

In view of Brexit, and potential ‘Third country status for the UK & Northern Ireland’, peripherality of Ireland should not become an obstacle and should not lead to a lack of competitiveness. The existing transport infrastructure across the WDC region, including the key ports, airports, the road and rail network should be recognized as an important contributor to enhancing the social, economic and territorial cohesion of the EU. The inclusion of these nodes and networks in the comprehensive network would provide access to funding need to develop infrastructure that enhances the accessibility and competitiveness of the Western region, Ireland, and ultimately, the Union.

Deirdre Frost

The Benefits as well as the Costs of the National Broadband Plan

There are significant benefits associated with the planned rollout of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), though the recent media coverage seemed to focus largely on the costs.

A review of newspaper headlines over the period following the announcement of the preferred bidder and the likely cost of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), suggests that the overall benefit is significantly lower than the cost. For example some of the headlines included;

  • Its wrong to endorse broadband plan and ignore officials’ warning on costs, Independent, 12 May 2019
  • National Broadband Plan, labelled ‘the worst deal ever seen’ Irish Examiner, 13 May 2019
  • Government to press ahead with €3bn broadband plan despite cost warnings, 26 April, 2019

But in reality, the cost benefit analysis (CBA) conducted by consultants on behalf of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, found that under all three different scenarios considered, the benefits outweigh the costs. The CBA also made clear that many benefits were not included in the computations and some of the benefits were estimated on a very conservative basis.

The Costs and Benefits of the National Broadband Plan

The table below shows the costs and benefits anticipated under three different scenarios; pessimistic, central and optimistic. There is a detailed analysis showing how each of the costs and benefits are computed, all of which is published and available for download on the Department of Communications website, see here  (825KB)

Costs: The total project costs include both costs to the State and costs to the operator.

Benefits include benefits to residents and enterprises. The residential benefits refer to the residents who will benefit from the NBP through various savings which will be made in communications services, time savings through online access of services as well as time and cost savings from remote working.

The enterprise benefits refer both to benefits to all firms, those within the NBP area and those outside it.

For firms outside the NBP area one of the largest benefits to be realised is that many of their staff (who live in the NBP area) will now have better broadband access enabling productivity gains from remote/tele-working.

For firms within the NBP area, all SMEs will benefit. Farm enterprises will be able to engage in smart farming, while all SMEs will benefit from higher upload and download speeds to serve their clients and suppliers more efficiently.

Scope of Costs and Benefits

Table 1 shows that under all three scenarios the benefits of the NBP exceed the costs. In the analysis, the entire range of costs have been considered and furthermore they are capped and there are various clawback mechanisms to ensure limited and capped costs to the State.

The benefits that have been measured are just some of the range and a whole range of benefits have not been included. As the CBA report notes, in including and profiling benefits, the consultants adopted a deliberately conservative approach to ensure benefits were not overstated. As a result, there are important categories of benefits which are not quantified and therefore not included in the CBA analysis. Table 2 below provides an overview of these benefits and examples of how households and enterprises in the NBP area may benefit.

Measuring benefits – Other international examples

In making the case for various state supports and state aid for broadband investment, other countries have also grappled with how to measure and capture benefits. While investment in fibre networks can be evaluated in a similar fashion to investment in other infrastructure, technological innovation and new product and service developments are continually extending the range of benefits from investment in broadband infrastructure generally and fibre deployment in particular. Consideration of these other benefits is not new and other countries have valued the benefits of fibre rollout across various sectors.

For example, research undertaken in Sweden provides some economic calculations on additional returns to fibre which need to be captured in evaluation. In Sweden, higher rents are charged for homes with fibre connectivity. Tenants pay an extra €5.50 per month for a home with a fibre connection and this is valued at €267 million per year for all fibre connected homes, which yields €185.6 million per annum return on investment.

Investment in fibre networks can also reduce telecommunications costs to the user, for example the Stockholm Regional Council (regional government) reduced its telecommunications costs by 50% following deployment of the fibre network. This is attributed to increased efficiency and greater competition with more telecommunication operators providing services on the high capacity fibre network.

The development of eHealth technologies including remote monitoring and diagnosis will provide opportunities to deliver some healthcare direct to the community rather than through hospitals. Community care is generally significantly less expensive than hospital care. The greater bandwidth and symmetrical (upload and download) speeds with fibre networks can support those applications requiring very good upload and download speeds. As many of these applications such as eHealth are still being developed, it is difficult to estimate their full value and benefit.

At a wider economy level, the OECD has examined the benefits arising to other economic sectors (transport, health, education and electricity) of a national ‘fibre to the home’ network. The analysis examines the cost of deploying ‘fibre to the home’ across different OECD countries, including Ireland, and has estimated that the combined savings in each of the four sectors over a 10 year period could justify the cost of building a national ‘fibre to the home’ network. These examples are outlined in the WDC report, Connecting the West, Next Generation Broadband in the Western Region, see here (1.5MB).

Measuring the benefits of State investment should also take account of the impact on other Government policy objectives. More balanced regional and rural development and greater regional economic growth are important Government policy objectives.

State Aid

The Telecoms sector just like most other economic sectors are subject to strict EU State Aid Rules. State aid is subject to very strict criteria, one of which is that there is market failure. In the NBP areas, defined according to a detailed mapping process which was undertaken as part of the requirements for State aid, it is clear that no commercial deployment of high speed broadband has been or is likely to occur. This is then a case of market failure. Just as with other utility provision (transport, water, energy) the State intervenes where commercial provision does not occur.

One of the other criteria for State aid is that the aid serves an Objective of Common Interest. The European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) is an objective of common interest to which Ireland has committed and this sets out a minimum of 30Mbps download for all homes and businesses by 2020. Given the increasing demand for higher speeds the EU Commission has revised upwards the target for member states which is now to achieve a basic service of 100 Mbps for all households by 2025. This objective and need to reduce the current digital divide complies with State aid requirements.

Conclusions

The NBP has been subject to probably the most extensive, thorough and comprehensive evaluation both within various Government Departments as well as across the wider public domain.

When the benefits exceed the costs, and the costs are capped while the benefits that are measured are only partial and conservatively estimated then the results of the CBA are positive and clearly make the case to proceed with the investment.

The full report on the benefits from the NBP (February 2019), is available for download on the Department of Communications website, available here (2.5MB).

The NBP Cost Benefit Analysis report (April 2019), is available for download for the Department of Communications, see here  (825KB).

 

 

Deirdre Frost

Smaller Labour Catchments across the Western Region

Travel to Work Areas and Labour Catchments

Analysis of travel to work data can be used to identify the geographic catchment from which a town draws its workforce, otherwise known as its labour catchment. Measurement of labour markets based on Travel to Work Areas (TTWAs) has been well established in the UK for many years, helping to inform various public policies ranging from employment to transport provision. Companies and large employers use TTWAs to help identify optimal locations to access labour supply.

The use of TTWAs is less well established in Ireland, and where used has largely been focussed on the larger cities especially Dublin. There has generally been little focus on labour catchments in other centres or more rural regions.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has worked with the All Island Research Observatory (AIRO) to examine the labour catchments of towns across the Western Region based on Census of Population data 2006 and 2016. The town labour catchments show that area from which a town draws most of its labour supply; each catchment is based on the inclusions of Electoral Divisions (EDs) that are assigned to a town, based on commuting to work flows.

Last year the WDC published the findings on the labour catchments of the principal towns of the seven counties of the Western Region (Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon). The full report Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region, A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments is available for download here (14.2MB). Each of the individual town reports are also available to download separately (Galway City, Sligo Town, Ennis,  Letterkenny, Castlebar, Carrick-on-Shannon, Roscommon).

The WDC is now publishing the findings of the other smaller catchments across the Western Region. This is the first time such detailed labour market analyses have been undertaken for the smaller centres across the Western Region. These data and findings can inform local and regional economic development and help support appropriate policies to ensure optimal local and regional development.

Smaller Catchments

The WDC identifies 26 labour catchments, which complement the 7 labour catchments of the principal towns in each of the counties which were published in 2018, see above.

In these 26 publications, the WDC draws on Census 2016 POWCAR (Place of Work Census of Anonymised Records) data to examine the travel to work patterns in centres with a population greater than 1,000 across the Western Region.

These 26 smaller catchments provide insights into the travel to work patterns of workers living there which are then used to generate labour catchments which show the geographic area from which each town draws most of its workers. Each town’s labour catchment has many more workers living there than the Census measure of the town’s resident workforce and it is a better measure of labour supply. This is particularly useful when considering employment and investment decisions.

Socio-economic profiles

Each of the reports identify the place of work of the resident workforce and provides detailed analysis of the socio-economic profile of workers providing information on age, gender, education levels, and sector of employment. There are comparisons with the rest of the Western Region and the State Average. There is also trend analyses indicating the extent of change between 2006 and 2016.

For ease of presentation the 26 smaller catchment reports are presented by County. Below are links to each of the 26 reports. In practice labour catchments extend across county boundaries, indeed that is one of the rationales for considering labour catchments rather than administrative boundaries; people travel to work regardless of county boundaries and these patterns and catchments provide a better evidence base for informing policy.

Some key points include:

  • Labour Supply: All the town labour catchments have significantly more people at work than the Census population at work for that town and have therefore access to a larger labour supply than normal Census definitions would indicate.
  • Profile of ‘Rural’ employment: The profile of employment in these smaller centres provide important insights into ‘rural’ employment, which is much are complex and varied than the perception of rural as largely agricultural employment.
  • Trends: Changes over time, in both place of work and the socio-economic characteristics of workers indicate little change in the geography of labour catchments but much change in the profile of resident workers, most notably in their age and education levels.

County Clare

The two labour catchments within Co. Clare have both recorded an increase in workers resident in the catchments. The Shannon labour catchment is concentrated around the Shannon Free Zone and Shannon Airport and is geographically compact. The Kilrush labour catchment is more extensive and now incorporates a previously separate Kilkee labour catchment. In both there is evidence of longer distances travelled to work than previously.

County Donegal

There are 8 smaller catchments located within Co. Donegal, reflecting the large size of the county, its geography with an extensive border both with Northern Ireland and the sea, and the relatively small size of some of the catchments.

Of the 8 labour catchments, 5 recorded a decline in the number of resident workers in the decade between 2006 and 2016. The three that recorded an increase in resident workers are Donegal, Dungloe and Carndonagh,  illustrating that some more remote areas are experiencing growth.

Each report identifies the top 10 work destinations for residents living in each labour catchment and the extent of cross border commuting is presented.

County Galway

There are 4 smaller catchments located within Co. Galway and just one, Gort labour catchment, recorded a decrease in the number of workers living there over the decade 2006-2016. Clifden, Tuam and Loughrea labour catchments recorded increases of varying degrees. The data presented also shows the extent of commuting between catchments, for example from Tuam, Loughrea and Gort labour catchments to Galway city.

County Leitrim

Apart from the county town labour catchment of Carrick-on-Shannon, there is just one smaller catchment located within Co. Leitrim, namely Manorhamilton. The number of resident workers in the Manorhamilton labour catchment increased over the ten year period and there is data to show more people are now working in Manorhamilton . The influence of some key employers is evident. Data on dross border commuting is also presented.

County Mayo

There are 8 smaller catchments located within Co. Mayo. Just two of the eight recorded a decline in the numbers of resident workers between the period of 2006 and 2016, these were Belmullet and the Charlestown/Knock Airport catchment. The other 6 recorded increases of varying degrees from 31% increase in the Westport labour catchment to an increase of 2.4% for the Ballina labour catchment. The most important places of work across each catchment are presented along with the labour market profiles of workers living there.

County Roscommon

There are 3 smaller catchments located within Co. Roscommon. All 3 recorded a decline in the numbers of workers resident there. In the case of Boyle and Ballaghaderreen, the geographic size of the labour catchments also decreased slightly. The data presented show the sectors in which people worked, the extent to which people worked inside the town and those who worked outside the town but within the wider catchment and the changes over the 10 years. Across all catchments there is a very significant increase in the level of third level education among the workforce.

 

Deirdre Frost

Galway as a Key Regional Driver

The WDC recently presented to Galway Chamber (presentation available here), noting some of the work they have recently undertaken and highlighting some policy implications for the Region as well as the city.

Galway – which Galway?!

Galway city and its reach goes well beyond the city boundary, but measuring this is complicated. In part because there are different measures depending on the role performed by the city, for example as a centre of excellence for health it has an extensive regional remit. More recently there is consideration of the Galway Metropolitan Area Spatial Plan (MASP) as part of Ireland 2040 and the National Planning Framework.

Travel to Work Areas

Another way of examining the impact and influence of Galway is examining its labour catchment. The WDC has analysed labour catchments, based on Travel to Work Areas, which in turn are based on the commuting patterns of workers resident in the Western Region. The WDC first undertook this exercise based on Census 2006 data and has completed the same analysis 10 years later with the most recent Census in 2016. This provides useful trend data, which shows a growth in the size of the Galway city labour catchment over the period. The Galway city labour catchment and the extent of commuting to the city highlights the extensive reach of the city across the entire county and beyond into parts of Galway and Mayo.

Highlights from 2016 Census

The recent Census data shows that between 2011 and 2016 the number of people living in Galway city grew by over 4% (4.2%), and by 2.4% in County Galway. Both the city and county had much higher population increases than anywhere else across the Western Region, (Mayo and Donegal recorded slight declines).

When examining the socio-economic profile of residents, the figures for Galway city are generally very similar to the state average, for example, in terms of the employment (53.4%) and unemployment rates (7.9%) and the share not economically active (38%) the Galway city figures and the State are the same.

NPF and RSES

There was a discussion on the National Planning Framework and the Northern & Western Regional Economic and Spatial Plan. While the NPF is to be a move away from ‘business as usual’, from a regional perspective the focus is on the five cities. A concern is implementation and the importance of sectoral policy as an instrument of change for both capital & current spending. Sectoral polices need to be aligned to support the move ‘away from business as usual’. However, there is little evidence of this in the NPF, so for example, policies such as the National Aviation Policy devised well before the NPF now need to be reviewed to support the regional population and employment targets.

On the Northern & Western Regional Economic and Spatial Plan, while the WDC welcomes regional population targets there needs to be more commitments to help deliver. There is much potential in the regional centres but there needs to be better links and investment, however much of this is at the back end of the programme rather than being front loaded. As we know from previous spatial planning exercises (e.g. National Spatial Strategy), implementation is key. What happens if priorities of a Government Department or sectoral agency conflict with RSES?

Policy implications for Galway

Better intra-regional transport links e.g. M18 have extended labour catchments & opened up new opportunities, for example there is now more commuting for work between Galway, Ennis, Shannon and Limerick. This can be a key asset for large employers looking to access the skills they need. The Galway-Ennis-Shannon- Limerick may currently be the most cohesive element of the Atlantic Economic Corridor and it illustrates how good transport links are critical.

Employment and good job opportunities are important in ensuring skilled people will stay in the region and Galway needs to attract new and dynamic enterprises. Employment is very important but Galway as a place to live is equally, if not more important. Place of residence is usually more stable than place of employment, therefore retaining the good quality of life available in Galway and improving on it should also be a policy priority.

Galway City and Chambers city Regions Conference

The idea of the regional cities working together more cohesively was a key theme discussed at the conference on urban development hosted by the Chambers of Commerce in the five cities – Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, held in NUI Galway on 28th March. The conference, entitled ‘Ireland’s Cities – Powerhouses of Regional Growth’, explored how Ireland’s five cities can fulfill the goals of economic development for their regions set out in the National Planning Framework (NPF) and Project Ireland 2040.

The Minster for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD, opened the conference and welcomed the initiative, pointing to the opportunities for urban growth and regeneration without urban sprawl. John Moran, Chair of the Land Development Agency pointed to the opportunities for the four regional cities to work together to create a counterbalance to the East and to combine capacities to create more opportunities. Other speakers included Anne Graham, CEO of the National Transport Authority.  John O’Regan, Director of AECOM discussed the results of their Survey on Our Cities’ Infrastructure Needs and Dr. Patrick Collins from NUI Galway discussed a Vision for Galway as an example of urban regeneration highlighting issues and opportunities. The presentations will be made available on the Galway Chamber website shortly.

 

Deirdre Frost

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