Duncan Stewart proposes plan to go back to the future

Environmental campaigner says Ireland must generate its own renewable power

The Government’s new energy strategy must devolve responsibility for power generation and district heating to local communities, environmental campaigner Duncan Stewart has said.

Commenting in advance of the publication of a Government discussion document on energy policy later this month, Mr Stewart said not enough action was being taken on climate change issues, particularly in relation to use of fossil fuels.

Mr Stewart, who on Friday received an award from Environmental Health Association of Ireland for his “outstanding” contribution to the area, proposed a three point approach to replacing centrally generated electricity.

He said towns across rural Ireland should be encouraged to generate their own renewable power - much as they did before the advent of “centralised power generation” by the ESB.


Towns like Boyle in Co Roscommon, which had once been powered by a local mill, could be powered from such a renewable source in the future, creating local jobs and being financed by money that was not being spent on centrally generated electricity from fossil fuels, he said.

Mr Stewart welcomed work Energy Cooperatives Ireland were doing which helped local energy schemes in five centres, including the Aran Islands.

The second point of the plan would be to encourage local initiatives such as the district heating scheme in Tralee, Co Kerry, which provides renewable heating for homes in the town, again replacing fossil fuels.

The third point was transport, which he said was a serious problem that must also be addressed.

He proposed rural communities establish their own biofuels from vegetation and derive fuel from methane gas, which had been proven effective at powering vehicles.

However he did not believe simply replacing fuels was enough and the “learned dependence” on the car should be broken.

He said it was important children could walk to school, as they had in the past.

While the changes could be costly, he said the State was spending €6.7billion a year on imported energy and replacing this with renewable energy “would keep that money at home”.

Whereas it had been argued that micro generation of electricity would destabilise the national grid, this was no longer the case.

He said the use of “smart micro grid and energy use opportunities” would replace centralised turf, oil and gas power stations, adding the the ESB should “turn off the peat stations immediately” as they were not necessary.

In relation to the peat stations Mr Stewart was echoing the words of the Green party leader Eamon Ryan who said a government decision to extend the life of the peat-fired power plants by 15 years would cost €120 million each year.

Such an approach, he said was “uneconomic and morally indefensible”.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy said the Energy “white paper” would have to be considered by Cabinet before a debate was opened up on its draft proposals. In advance of that he said the proposals were unknown.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist