In terms of the likely opposition to Ireland’s wind and solar projects, it may be worthwhile to look at the background in many other EU countries where renewable power production is much more developed. For Germany itself, there are 30,000 wind turbines. For example, 41% of electricity is generated by wind in Denmark; in Germany, it’s only about 25%.
There, it is almost inevitable that such initiatives would face local resistance, which means more uncertainties in meeting global climate goals. Throughout Germany, just over 31% of gross renewable energy generation is owned by its residents, compared with 0.14% throughout Ireland. A tale lies in it.
Can community-led ventures have a better success rate in Ireland, as distinct from outside shareholders? Communities must have significant benefits.
Currently, in the Aller-Leine-Talregion of Germany, the Western Development Council, together with groups from the West of Ireland, has partnered with those outside Denmark, Sweden and Finland to look into society-owned renewable energy projects.
We toured community-owned wind farms, a hybrid, car-sharing power cooperative, a community-owned biogas plant and a number of fuel-efficient building upgrades sponsored by the German Renewable Energy Agency. We saw how a plethora of initiatives was created from groups.
For the touring teams, how this could be reproduced in Ireland’s rural areas was a priority.
They saw how renewable energy can be a major economic boost for remote areas, according to the Western Development Commission’s Orla Nic Suibhne. There are gains for farming in Aller-Leine-Tal, more tax receipts from energy income, additional wealth locally as energy is domestically produced and not imported from overseas, more local job opportunities and land lease income.
Visitors also found a low opposition rate to solar and wind farms, but this is rapidly changing. For example, the German government was forced to conduct a meeting to address a drastic downturn in the wind energy market that challenges climate goals. The issues, it seems, are due to political errors and growing community opponents, with potential health problems from wind farms being a key issue.
In recent years, legal action against German wind energy projects has increased dramatically, leading to a massive downward trend. There was a fall of more than 80 per cent during the first half of this year compared to the same period last year and the lowest in almost two centuries.
Following the German visit, on December 11, the Western Development Commission is hosting a summit in Galway to discuss the experiences of community-owned projects from Denmark and Germany.