Events refocus minds on climate change and difficult decisions

UN panel report and foundering of wind energy plan brings neglected issue back, writes Harry McGee

The Government announced that an ambitious (and controversial) plan to export wind energy from the midlands to Britain has foundered. Photograph: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images

The Government announced that an ambitious (and controversial) plan to export wind energy from the midlands to Britain has foundered. Photograph: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images

Mon, Apr 14, 2014, 16:43

Two separate but connected events yesterday conspired to focus minds on an issue that has been comparatively neglected in recent times but should arguably be at the core of every political debate in this country, and elsewhere.

The advice in the report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does not mince it words. It calls for a rapid “large-scale transformation” from energy reliant on fossil fuels to that based on renewables. The panel says such as switch is necessary to contain global warning at 2 degrees Celsius.

Former president Mary Robinson, who has established her own foundation on climate justice, put it succinctly (and dramatically) this morning when she said “we have 20 years to save the world”.

Around the same time, the Government announced that an ambitious (and controversial) plan to export wind energy from the midlands to Britain had foundered.

The Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte yesterday conceded that the plan had been timed out because of uncertainty of which of the Irish or British governments would bear certain costs. and what he described as an internal debate over the future of energy policy in Britain that had not yet concluded.

The upshot is that plans by three companies - Element Power, Mainstream and Bord na Mona - have been becalmed, if you excuse the pun. Between them they would have built 1,000 turbines in five counties in the midlands, mostly on cutaway bog. In all some 3 gigawatts of energy would have been capable of being transferred into the British grid via the new interconnector between Ireland and Wales.

At a stroke, the decision meant that not only were the plans jettisoned, but one of the big issues driving the local election campaigns in rural Ireland was also sidelined. There has been strong local opposition to the erection of what amounts to an army of 40 metre plus metre windmills, enough to preoccupy Don Quixote for a lifetime.

And in recent weeks it had become a live campaign issue, placing substantial pressure on candidates for the Government parties. Indeed, several Government TDs and Senators living in affected constituencies have made no secret of the fact that they have opposed the plans.

And that in turn feeds into a wider - i.e. nationwide - debate about the downsides of pursuing renewable energy policies. They involve windmills - and lots of them - and they will also involved massive improvements to the national grid to adapt them for renewable sources of energy - and that energy tends to come from the most geographically far-flung, and least populated, regions.

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