Energy infrastructure ‘approaching tipping point’

Energy infrastructure is approaching a tipping point, with a lack of trust in State institutions resulting in communities hindering the development of national infrastructure, it has been claimed.

Addressing Minister for Research Sean Sherlock at the Energy Cork’s Stakeholder Workshop, director of XD consultancy Xavier Dubuisson warned that, unless there was action, Ireland risked failing to deliver the infrastructure needed to become an energy exporter.

“I think we are at crunch point regarding infrastructure development. Social acceptance is a big issue and, if we don’t deal with this, it is going to come back to us in a big way,” he said.

Mr Dubuisson’s concerns were echoed by ServusNet director Sean Condon who said that, on one hand, there are people objecting to development while, on the other, the whole country lives in fear of the ESB going on a general strike.

“I think people realise the value of energy but the problem is that the threats from this infrastructure is something they can’t quantify and deal with. Also, they don’t have the trust in our institutions to deliver what is good for them,” he said.

Customer relations manager for Eirgrid, Claire Kane, admitted that the company was struggling to get the public to understand the need for the kind of infrastructure the company is proposing. “How better to create an understanding in the public of a need for better energy infrastructure,” she asked. “It’s a real challenge for us.”

Mr Sherlock said that consultation had not lived up to an ideal level, but that all sides were trying to come to an agreement now.

He said that some of the concerns on the side of the communities did not stand up to scrutiny but he was not sure how to reach a position of trust with communities. “If you look at some of the statements made about these proposals, for example, some of them are very genuine concerns, and on scientific concerns, some of them are wide of the mark,” said Mr Sherlock. “How do you reach a point where the advice is given in an impartial way by a person or a body where everybody subscribes in terms of trust?”

Mr Conlon warned that there is a danger, unless there is significant engagement, of a repeat of the Shell saga in Westport, but on a larger scale. “It was because some local people didn’t trust in it they felt threatened,” said Mr Conlon. “Then you have a group will come along and piggyback on top of that and make it into a big deal, suddenly people become entrenched and you have lost the battle.”

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