Theresa O’Donohoe

Foundation for Sustainable Economicspeoples-energy-charter-logo


Comprehensive Public Participation in our Energy Transition


I have spent the past number of years advocating for the People’s Energy Charter request for comprehensive public participation in Ireland’s National Energy Transition Plan, NETP. A brief synopsis of the outcome is here and more in-depth report on my work is here.

The questions everybody asks are “What is comprehensive public participation and how do we do it?” Here are some thoughts but I have a full proposal in my latest blog here.

Comprehensive public participation in the national energy transition plan is vital so that its implementation will be widely accepted at least and actively participated in at best. We need a collaborative national vision and implementation strategy. Working together we can create a shared vision and commitment to its success.

The national transition must be transparent and participatory. From the outset the public must be included, working on the design of the consultation, integral to the creation of the vision and co-creators of the implementation plan. The Maastricht Recommendations on Promoting Effective Public Participation in Decision-making in Environmental Matters are a great basis for how to progress our NETP. A general recommendation for designing the legal framework for public participation in decision-making advises that for good practice it be created in consultation with the public – page 6. 

In other words the public should be involved in designing the National Energy Transition Plan consultation.

I believe that we need someone dedicated to climate and energy in every local authority area. A Climate & Energy Transition Coordinator perhaps in every Public Participation Network (PPN) or similar structure. They will have a coordinating role for Climate and Energy awareness, information, education and participation in planning at community and local authority level. They will facilitate community led, collaborative climate and energy plans to ensure action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. They would work in conjunction with the PPN while collaborating with the Local authority, energy agency, local media, development companies and other bodies within the area. They would be tasked with collating the public vision for how the transition should happen while empowering people to engage in the policy and decision-making as well as inspiring them to take action in their own communities. Ideally they should be independent of the local authority.

I would like to see an energy forum in each local authority area. This will be a space for stakeholders – communities, council, business, industry, farmers, church, sporting bodies etc., to meet and explore climate and energy issues. This will also be the forum that discusses what needs to be represented at the National Energy Forum and Climate Dialogue. This is especially important for rural areas where infrastructure decisions have historically been made centrally without the host communities input.

We need a national awareness-raising campaign on climate change and our need to co-create a NETP similar to those addressing smoking and road deaths.

Public participation in energy planning has been inadequate to date. Projects have mostly been industry led with some having the support of government, state agencies and strong lobby groups. This has resulted in widespread mistrust of government, state agencies and developers. Over the course of the past decade we have seen many energy project or policy opposition groups rise up including Shell to Sea, Wind Aware Ireland, Save Our Forests, Fracking Free Ireland, Turf Cutters United, Protect Our Coast and Save Our Seafront in Dublin Bay. The Right to Change movement that has emerged from the Right To Water campaign is also focused on our natural resources. I recently met with the Marine Institute who are coming up against opposition to research in renewable energy.

We really need to start collaborating now to create a shared vision and commitment to its success.

About Theresa O’Donohue:

Coordinator of the People’s Energy Charter and Convenor of Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland. Member of the Climate Committee at An Taisce and representative of Feasta, Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability at the Environmental Pillar. Founding member of Clare’s Public Participation Network, PPN and member of Clare’s Economic Development and Enterprise Strategic Policy Committee.

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