Societal consent for energy policy is key
Sir, – Recent letters on the cost of wind energy (Richard More-Farrell; Anne Baily, Letters, November 20th) indicate welcome public engagement with Ireland’s transition to sustainable energy.
Yet they also reveal worrying levels of scepticism about the value of onshore wind energy – the most technologically mature and cost-effective form of renewable energy at our disposal.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that the transition to low-carbon energy, which is necessary to restrict global warming to a safe level of 1.5 degrees, is unprecedented in its rapidity and extent.
To have any chance whatsoever of reducing emissions, Ireland needs a concerted and sustained response involving every family, community and sector of society.
Clearly, technologically mature and cost-effective energy projects are vital to this process. Yet they are not enough. There must be societal consent for this unprecedented change.
Ireland has a far from perfect track record here.
As these letters make clear, past mistakes endure in the public mind. Shell’s Corrib Gas debacle, the ESB’s Derrybrien wind farm, the Midlands wind energy plan to export electricity to the UK, EirGrid’s North South interconnector – this is a roll call of shame that continues to hamper progress.
Policymakers need to recognise that the less tangible socio-cultural and behavioural elements of sustainable energy transitions are equally important as engineering and economics. Factors including public trust, a sense of community and a sense of place, a feeling that your voice is being heard and your community is not being left behind, these are crucial ingredients of a just and acceptable plan to reduce emissions.
Anne Baily is right to raise the potential role of nuclear power in any energy transition. However, many argue that nuclear power has been superseded by technological innovations in battery storage and the provision of flexibility within more service-oriented, smart local energy systems.
If true, changes in how we provide, store and use energy will reach deep into every Irish community and our private homes, further emphasising the necessity for policymakers to recognise social aspects of technological change. We cannot afford any more mistakes, – Yours, etc,