Could a town in West Cork become a centre of excellence for climate change projects? Two local businessmen think so and are determined to make it happen – with a little help from others
ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have declared their intention to make ‘a centre of excellence for action on climate change and renewable energy.’
Top environmental consultant, Noel Casserly, who is also the managing director of SmartEarth, and well-known local environmental campaigner, Jim O’Donnell, first mooted the idea of creating a ‘Green Skibbereen’ in September of 2019.
Since then, they have conducted meetings with local planners as well as hosting a meeting at the West Cork Hotel that attracted a large crowd of like-minded individuals and business people.
One such individual was Alicia O’Sullivan, who is still a student at Skibbereen Community School but was invited to be Ireland’s representative at the 2019 United Nationals Youth Climate Action Summit.
Jim O’Donnell opened the meeting with a call to arms saying everyone – regardless of age – had a part to play in addressing the world’s climate emergency.
He said it was one of his five grandchildren that prompted him to take immediate action when she asked him the very direct question: ‘What are you going to do about it?’
Being a practical person, and the former head of a large family furniture making business in the area, Jim said: ‘The first and obvious course of action would be to put a significant number of solar panels on businesses in Skibbereen.’ He said this would generate green electricity and ‘take a major amount of carbon out of the equation.’
Jim’s friend, and willing ally in the project, is Noel Casserly, who previously worked with the Irish Government on the international climate change agenda.
Both men are convinced that ‘now is the time’ to focus on local projects and to encourage all local residents, as well as local business owners, to join their drive for cleaner, greener energy.
Noel Casserly told The Southern Star it was an opportune time to drive the project forward because there has never been greater awareness and understanding about the role that civil society and young people can play in affecting positive change.
Both he and Jim believe that if the community comes together it can take real action on renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The use of solar panels, for example, to generate green electricity would require a considerable investment on the part of homeowners and participating businesses but it would also prove cost effective in the long term.
Jim explained that the cost of solar panels is coming down and their efficiency is increasing all the time. He said there are also government packages and subsidies to incentivise the switch, as well as a government commitment to generate 70% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
‘Our vision for Skibbereen,’ he said, ‘is that it would become a test case, and a focal point, for this. If Skibbereen can generate a major portion of its electricity usage, then why can’t other towns do it as well?’
At the meeting in the West Cork Hotel, Alicia pledged her commitment to the project and to raising awareness about it.
Meanwhile, John Flynn of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, outlined how – between 2012 and 2019 – 18,000 homes and 2,500 non-domestic projects had been completed involving a total project spend of €370m, of which the total grants amounted to €145m and energy savings of 600GWh.
Another expert speaker, Paddy Rose of Advanced Heating and Energy Systems Ltd, outlined how solar panels work and he gave a breakdown of the different types and installation costs versus their long-term benefit and return.
The third guest speaker on the night, Catriona Courtney, gave a presentation on the work being carried out by the NCE Energy Hub.
As part of the Northside Community Enterprises (NCE) group, she said they help homes, businesses and communities around Ireland to become more energy efficient, reduce energy bills and move towards a low carbon future.
The group is, in fact, one of the largest community-based installers of energy saving measures and have over 15 years’ experience partnering with government agencies and educational bodies in Ireland and Europe to secure funding for projects that help tackle climate change.
She said the group is there to advise people on what grants are available and to guide people through the application process.
Encouraged by the scale and scope of what the ‘Green Skibbereen’ project could achieve, she pledged the NCE Energy Hub’s assistance to the community to prepare an application for funding under the SEAI’s 2020 Community Energy Grant – a scheme that is broad enough to include homeowners, businesses and community buildings, and not-for-profits.
For further information about Green Skibbereen, phone: 086 2433126, or email: [email protected]