The power of other countries
MANCHÁN MAGAN'stales of a travel addict
I am writing this from the Berber village of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains of Morocco, but my mind is still back in the village of Capileira in the Alpujarra region of the Sierra Nevada mountains where I was last week.
It was Mary White of Blackstairs Eco Trails who told me about Las Alpujarras on a nature trail she led through a Longford forest in the autumn. White was a Green Party TD and her recommendation has helped go some way to alleviating my disappointment over the Green Party’s performance when in office. Travel invariably forces one to take heed of the environment, as it makes one aware of problems abroad, but also hints at potential solutions.
While travelling in Thailand last January, it was inspiring to see how many vehicles were powered by natural gas. As the distance-per-litre is less than diesel it means more frequent trips to service stations to refill. Every 90 minutes or so, we’d pull in to a station and, while at first this was irritating, over time I came to see how healthy and civilised the whole experience was. Filling a vehicle with gas takes longer than with regular fuel and so each visit provided time for a coffee or to check email.
Back at home, Duncan Stewart told me that not only was Ireland as a small country ideal for natural gas vehicles, but we could produce all our own natural gas from anaerobic digesters fuelled by animal slurry, food industry residues, household organic waste and specially grown mulching crops. The gas could be used to power vehicles, but also to produce electricity.
The Government’s Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources published proposals in 2011 to set up 1,000 small farm-based generation plants nationwide. Each 380 kW plant would generate enough electricity to power about 400 houses, while providing work for local farmers and keeping our wealth at home instead of paying it to oligarchs and oil-rich dictatorships abroad. Their report pointed out that currently fossil fuels account for 96 per cent of Ireland’s energy mix, and that all gas imported into Ireland is via one inter-connector from Scotland, making our energy security alarmingly unreliable.
To think that Ireland could lead the world in biogas. However, when the Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan, was minister for communications, energy and natural resources, he set the feed-in tariff price that biogas-generated electricity would be bought for, at a rate far lower than in Germany or Britain, making it unviable for private investors to build digesters here. It’s a real shame, as they work well elsewhere.
In La Alpujarra, a mountain community of goat-herders and cheese-makers are thriving despite their isolation. They achieve this by being true to their traditional way of life. It reminds me how vital it is that we remain conscious on trips abroad of looking for new solutions to Ireland’s challenges.