The Hughes Energy Initiative –

The Hughes Energy Initiative –

Saving Ireland Billions via Deep Building Retrofits. The EU has rightly stated that the energy that buildings consume represents the greatest potential for saving energy. In its Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) it has set two targets for energy reduction in buildings – 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Probably even more important from a climate change point of view is this will reduce Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 11 Million Tonnes (11MtCO2). These are substantial reductions and while nobody would argue with the intent behind this initiative, the ‘elephant in the room’ of course is how are we going to pay for this? Well over €30 Billion of funding is available from Ireland’s current response to a previous EU ‘challenge’ the so called ‘NREAP’ or National Renewable Energy Action Plan from 2009. The NREAP has spawned a series of very costly and divisive projects including Grid25, Wind farms, Interconnectors, Sub Stations and Fast Response Gas Power Stations. Some of you may know that NREAP seeks to provide 40% of Ireland’s electricity via wind energy but how many know the cost of this both financially and also the unintended consequences of loss of visual amenity and social divisiveness in areas where these pylons and wind turbines will be located? To date most commentators have said that while these projects do have negative effects they ask ‘what is the alternative?’ Well the alternative is we can divert investment from the remainder of the NREAP projects into the new EED 2030 and 2050 targets and achieve all three project objectives including NREAP in one step. Put very simply and in very round numbers the...
Wind Energy – What’s happening?

Wind Energy – What’s happening?

“Wind Turbines – Hasn’t all that gone away now?” No! And here’s why All of us at Wind Aware Ireland are involved in local wind awareness groups and this is one of the most common reactions we get. That, and ‘they’ll be miles away so I’m not bothered’ and ‘you’re only wasting your time, its going to happen anyway’, but these last two are a whole different article. Why is the perception out there among so many people that this issue has gone away? It’s all down to Pat Rabbitte’s disingenuous press release entitled ‘Midlands Energy Export Project will not go ahead’, and poor reporting in a lot of the media. This release was made on 13 April with two express intentions: to torpedo the Anti-Turbine/Pylon march in Dublin on 15 April, which it manifestly failed to do; and to take the heat out of this issue for Labour/Fine Gael candidates in the election. That didn’t work either. That press release was disingenuous because, although he does say “delivery by 2020 of a Midlands Wind Export Project is not now a realistic proposition” due to failure to conclude an Inter-Governmental Agreement, he goes on to say “greater trade in energy between Britain and Ireland is inevitable in the post 2020 scenario.” So, perhaps the timing may change but it sounds like it’s definitely going ahead to me. It’s disappointing that most journalists seemed unable to read past the headline when reporting this and have ended up misleading people which is probably what Mr Rabbitte intended all along. In response, Element Power, on it’s Greenwire website “expressed it’s surprise” and went...
Building a monster –

Building a monster –

Good intentions and vested interests make bad bedfellows. There is no doubt that plans for renewables came from a well meaning place. We are facing global warming, according to many scientists, and much of it caused by our actions.  Even if we weren’t there are many good reasons to reduce our emissions and become less dependent on oil and gas, after all it will eventually run out! In addition, the rise of despots such as Putin in Russia and al-Assad in Syria, make our leaders distinctly nervous about reliable supplies. In Ireland, the push for renewables is within the remit of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) who are quite clear that there are three goals in energy policy; energy security, cost competitiveness and protection of the environment through the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Their report ‘Renewable Energy in Ireland 2012’ published February 2014 analysed the contribution of renewables to Ireland’s energy requirements from 1990 to 2012. What they fail to mention however, is that the current chairman Brendan Halligan also sits on the board of, and owns shares in Mainstream Renewables, one of the largest wind farms developers in the state! Our energy consumption and emissions come from of three sources – heat, transport and electricity, electricity accounting for about 20% of overall energy use. It is important to keep in mind that when we discuss wind energy it is usually within the context of electricity use only and not the 80% of energy used by heat and transport. Another massive contributor to GHG emissions is agriculture at 29% of all emissions, with methane from flatulent...
The Social Network and Groupthink

The Social Network and Groupthink

Groupthink – “a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group  by setting aside their own personal beliefs. Those opposed to the decisions or overriding opinion of the group as a whole frequently remain quiet, preferring to keeping the peace rather than disrupt the uniformity of the crowd.” An example of groupthink was our Celtic Tiger boom and bust where the combination of light touch regulation, tax breaks and a cosy relationship between government and developers created a building boom that was totally unsustainable. This resulted in major financial, environmental and social crises still affecting our country. Parallels can be drawn to the current renwable energy plans: The close relationships and ties between charismatic characters such as Mainstream Renewable’s Eddie O’Connor and SEAI’s Brendan Halligan. The dismissal by Pat Rabbitte of opposition to renewable energy plans. The ‘revolving door’ whereby executives from Eirgrid and wind developers leave one organisation  in to take up office in another. The ‘revolving door’  whereby officers from An Bord Pleanála bring their inside experience of planning to Eirgrid and wind developers. Chairman of SEAI, Brendan Halligan, straddling both camps, owning shares in, and sitting on the board of Mainstream Renewables- a blatant conflict of interest. Many executives of Eirgrid and wind developers have worked together in the ESB, Airtricity, Bord Na Móna and other semi states, and also have strong political links to parties currently in government. The National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP ) and Grid 25 are plans hatched at the very height of our Celtic Tiger boom and are indicative of the type of thinking of that time....
Lets stick to facts and evidence

Lets stick to facts and evidence

A Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland report launched in February this year, estimated that wind was saving Ireland 2.3 % from total fuel imports per annum, of the €6.5 billion spent on fuel imports. This 2.3% saving did not include any fuel used in spinning reserve which is likely to have reduced that estimated saving to well below 2% and possibly even less than 1%.  How do we know this? Wind is intermittent; it produces little or no electricity for about 70% of the time. For the 30% of the time when the wind does blow, coal and gas plants continue to run in the background ready to come in on short notice when the wind dies. This permanent back up is called plant cycling or Spinning Reserve. Spinning reserve can quarter claimed fuel savings, this was one of the findings from the Fred Udo study which examined the Irish system and is unique in that it deals with real outputs and is not based on industry models or projections. This small saving of most likely between 1 and 2 % has come on the back of 20 years and several billion euros of investment as well as 1,200 turbines and a substantial investment in the grid to cater for and balance this intermittent and dispersed power. It is also likely that further wind development will yield little or zero C02 reductions as the law of diminishing returns will apply. The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) has accused Wind Aware Ireland of using inaccurate information. However, this information comes directly from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, a body closely...
Wind is not the only option

Wind is not the only option

Renewable Energy Sources of Electricity (RES-E) – Wind is not the only option. Dr. Anthony White gave an interesting investigation into the currently prevailing ideology that wind energy is the only solution to meeting our renewable electricity target of 40% for 2020. His contention was that wind is not the only option, that there are credible alternatives to wind and that it is not too late for Ireland to change its policy and investigate the alternatives in time for 2020. Dr. White began by noting that from 2000 to date, Ireland has made a massive switch from reliance on coal and peat sourced electricity to natural gas. He commended Ireland’s CO2 savings in doing so. He pointed out that since the recession began in 2008, electricity consumption in Ireland has reduced dramatically. Due to this reduction, no new electricity generating plants or turbines are actually required to satisfy demand within the Irish market. Were it not for EU directives on the quantity of renewables used to generate electricity we would not need to worry about the status-quo in national electricity production. On the subject of “spinning reserve” (the backup required within any electricity generation network), Dr. White highlighted that a network operator needs to build-in as much spinning reserve as its largest infeed into the network. This is required to prevent black-outs and guarantee consistency of supply in case of failure of that infeed. Because wind is not despatchable (i.e. it cannot be switched on as required) the network has to match the wind supply with spinning reserve. The example given was the event of maximum demand on a still day:...
Rebuttal of wind industry

Rebuttal of wind industry

A rebuttal of the wind industries claims made at Engineers Ireland presentation May 2014 By Owen Martin At the Q&A session following Dr.Anthony White’s presentation at Engineers Ireland last Wednesday, a number of points were made by the wind lobby in an attempt to disprove Dr.White’s assertion that there was a 20% limit on the amount of wind energy that could be accommodated by the grid. An SSE Airtricity Representative claimed that wind energy could power 100% of Ireland’s electricity needs. This is a ridiculous statement as Airtricity are investing in gas plants themselves e.g. Great Island CCGT, so the idea that Airtricity are interested in closing conventional plant, as this statement implies, is false.  It is also a technical impossibility. Dalkia VPP, a demand side unit operator, state that “as the amount of renewable generation increases, the TSOs will need to keep higher levels of operating reserve available”. With increased levels of wind penetration in the system, Eirgrid cannot shut down back-up plant without replacing it with new back-up because, as stated in their 2007 Adequacy Report, “there is a significant risk that a single source of failure (i.e. very low or very high wind speeds across the country) will result in all wind farms producing practically no output for a number of hours even allowing for geographic diversity”. New fossil fuel plants are being commissioned at present. Tarbert heavy oil plant was due to close last year but will now remain open as Eirgrid realise that large amounts of spinning reserve is essential to keep the lights on. An Eirgrid Representative claimed that Eirgrid welcome more wind...
Wind Turbine Land Options

Wind Turbine Land Options

Do farmers realise what they have signed up for? With many hundreds, if not thousands, of land option agreements signed in the Midlands are farmers fully aware of the extent of the restrictions they have placed on their property? And is the payoff worth it? Solicitor Nora Fagan’s article on the matter in April’s Law Gazette was very illuminating. If I were a signed-up farmer and wasn’t worried before, I would be now. The main points raised by her are presented here. The words and interpretation are mine. Option duration and restrictions Option agreements are usually for a minimum of five years and can often be extended to ten years. What many farmers failed to realise when they received the hard-sell from the developers was that often their entire folio is subject to the option, not just the original field that the developer might have identified as their preferred site for the turbine. This means that in theory the developer could construct the turbine anywhere they want on the farm, subject to planning constraints. Many options have clauses preventing a disposition or a transmission of land without the prior consent of the developer. This in effect means that the farmer cannot lease, mortgage or gift land without the permission of the developer. Nora Fagan cites one case of a farmer prevented by the developer from transferring a site to his son. Option/Lease assignment It’s common practice for developers to sell on parcels of options before even a single turbine has been built. The farmer would have no say in this transaction and it effectively means that he could end...
Wind Energy– The Science Bit!

Wind Energy– The Science Bit!

For many of us the wind/pylon debate has been an eye opener on many levels. For me, in my naivety, the level of lobbying power of big business and the absence of real evidence informed debate is staggering. I knew of course that spin (excuse the pun!) exists in decision making but surely once the facts are presented to decision makers they’d change their mind?!…as I said, naive! We have all had to educate ourselves, in the absence of leadership, on issues we previously knew nothing about and have trawled through technical reports and economic analysis which are by no means light bedtime reading! In this series of blogs I hope to give my understanding of some of the key reports which inform the stance of Wind Aware Ireland and many other wind and pylon campaigners and which I believe completely undermine the sustainability of wind energy and associated grid upgrades from and economic and environmental point of view. The first two reports we’ll have a look at are Joe Wheatley’s paper ‘Quantifying CO2 savings from wind power.’ published in the journal ‘Energy Policy’ in 2013 and the analysis ‘Wind Energy in the Irish Power System’ by Fred Udo published online in 2011. Most analyses of wind energy use assumptions and projections to come to conclusion. That is the nature of these types of studies. So, if the wind blows at a particular strength for a particular period and if conventional generation of electricity runs at a lower rate for this period then the CO2 or fuel import savings will be X. What is interesting about both these studies...
Mount Lucas July 2014

Mount Lucas July 2014

As the construction of turbines nears completion, you really get a sense of being overpowered by these giants, in what has become something akin to an alien landscape. Currently 22 turbines have been fully erected, with most of the remaining turbine towers in varying stages of construction. On the evening of 14 June 2014, eleven of the turbines were operating. There was a light breeze at ground level, but with obviously enough wind at altitude to turn the rotar blades. Again the noise was clearly audible – I liken it to the drone of a swarm of beetles which I recall from New Zealand. These beetles grow in the ground, then when they reach the adult stage they take flight in great swarms. The sound is at the same time distant and right inside your head, and there is no getting away from it – it is constant and unrelenting. We had to put up with it for only a few hours at a time, but can you imagine that feeling 24 hours a day? Up until recently the biggest visual impact had been along the western and southern borders of the site. With more turbines having been built the extent of the visual impact has widened greatly, with the houses on the northern and eastern borders of the site now dwarfed by the turbines. In the past few days I have visited some of the houses closest to the site. It really is an oppressive sight with several turbines towering in the background. Having spoken to a few people living in the shadow of the turbines you really...