A low carbon vision for the West of Ireland

Broadband, remote working, electric vehicles and a switch away from fossil fuels are some of the goals for a low carbon future of the West of Ireland.

In a first-of-its-kind report examining the impact of the transition to a low carbon economy for rural dwellers in the West of Ireland it is clear that a sea change in infrastructure will be required.

In a report analysing the challenges for rural areas authored by Dr Helen McHenry of the Western Development Commission entitled ‘Making the Transition to a Low Carbon Society in the Western Region— Key issues for Rural Dwellers’ such a transition will not be easy.

“There are significant opportunities to make rural towns and villages the focus of social and economic activity”

It was launched today (5 August 2020) by Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, TD, at the WDC offices in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.

The report, which excludes consideration of agricultural emissions and is focused on those who live in rural areas, recommends there needs to be an increase in remote working and the use of hubs to reduce commuting.

It recommends aligning charging infrastructure for electric vehicles with rural enterprise hubs and broadband connection points.

The report calls for the encouragement of more rural communities to become involved developing and participating in renewable energy projects, which it declares offers huge opportunities for communities as project shareholders.

It also points out how appropriate wood fuels can play a role in the transition and generate economic activity and circular economy benefits in rural areas.

The report proposes retrofitting a “demonstration home” in each county to showcase the benefits of switch away from fossil fuels.

“There are significant opportunities to make rural towns and villages the focus of social and economic activity through the use of enterprise hubs which can facilitate increased remote working, the opportunities for communities to benefit as shareholders in renewable energy projects and more broadly to re-imagine travel and mobility across the region,” pointed out Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO of the Western Development Commission.

Getting around in the west

A man and three women standing in an auditorium.

Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO of the Western Development Commission (WDC), chair of the WDC Dr Deirdre Garvey; Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, TD, and Dr Helen McHenry, WDC

Transport is a key issue for rural dwellers in the West of Ireland. The research showed nearly half of people based in the region (49.7pc) have access to less than 10 daily departures from their nearest bus stop.

It also showed that 42.7pc of households have at least two cars.

Making recommendations, the WDC has said that the increase in remote working should continue post Covid-19 and the region should be using the various rural enterprise hubs along the Atlantic Economic Corridor to reduce commuting times and to encourage the time spent in towns and villages.

The report also suggests that there is a need to promote electrical vehicles and align charging infrastructure roll-out with hubs and broadband connection points.

Is it possible to wean the West off fossil fuels?

When looking at homes in the region, the report found that 82pc of homes use oil, coal or peat compared with 44pc in the rest of the State.

It also found that only 5pc of homes have a BER rating of B2 [the energy efficiency target set out in the Climate Action Plan].

Research focused on Electricity demand and supply, concluded that the Western Region generates 120pc of its electricity needs from renewable resources. It also found that connected renewable generation is set to more than double before 2030.

The report recommends that there must be active engagement with rural communities at the location of future renewable energy projects and also suggests that renewable energy schemes offer huge opportunities for communities as project shareholders.

“While this report is focused on the Western Region, it identifies the challenges and opportunities for rural dwellers across Ireland. It also correctly recognises the role remote working and enterprise hubs can play in the transition to a low carbon economy,” said Minister Humphreys.

“This, in conjunction with the rollout of the National Broadband Plan and Broadband Connection Points initiative, represents a significant opportunity for rural Ireland. Allowing people to work close to where they live will regenerate towns and villages and improve quality of life while meeting the ambitious targets of the government on climate change.”

Pictured at top: Loop Head Lighthouse

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 5 August, 2020