Communities and business can get help to become more sustainable says Ailin Quinlan

LAST autumn a picturesque West Cork hotel gave its heating and lighting systems a major facelift –— and it’s been saving money ever since.

“We replaced our old lighting system with LED lights, installed a solid fuel stove to reduce our dependence on oil and had our solar panels serviced,” recalls Michael O’Neill, Marketing Manager and member of the O’Neill family, which owns and runs Fernhill House Hotel just outside Clonakilty.

One of the most popular wedding venues in West Cork, the hotel is aiming to feed its high-efficiency stove with wood from its four acres of carefully landscaped gardens.

The work was completed by the end of October and over subsequent months the hotel has been counting its savings — expected, says O’Neill, to reach thousands of euro over the next few years — as a result of engaging with the Better Energy Community Grants Scheme through a local voluntary group, Sustainable Clonakilty.

“Over the winter, from about the start of November to the end of January, we’ve seen a reduction of about five per cent in our energy bills — and that’s five per cent of the large sum we spend on our heating bills,” says O’Neill.

“It’s a significant annual saving which will allow us to reinvest in the property and hopefully employ more staff.

“It’s also made the hotel more environmentally-friendly which is something that’s becoming more and more important to our guests.

“We spent in the region of about €5,000 – and about 20% of that overall cost was funded by SEAI.

Michael, who is also director of Sustainable Clonakilty, says: “It’s all about planning ahead and reducing emissions and being more environmentally aware.

“It’s crucial that we all become more environmentally friendly and able to deal with the challenges posed by the changing weather in the most cost-efficient way possible.

Fernhill House Hotel planted 700 trees on its grounds last year, and aims to plant several hundred more this year as part of its ongoing sustainability programme, he says.

The projects at Fernhill were among several put forward by Sustainable Clonakilty under the 2015 Better Energy Community programme application for funding from the Sustainable Energy Authority (SEAI) programme.

This scheme encourages communities across to Ireland join together to save money and become more energy efficient — to date it has awarded a staggering €62m-plus in funding to community energy efficiency initiatives in Ireland.

The Better Energy Communities scheme has supported 260 community energy efficiency projects over the four years since it was established.

As a result, more than 12,000 homes, community, private and public buildings have received energy efficiency upgrades, supporting several hundred jobs each year.

Clonakilty fought off stiff competition nationwide in what was its first application to be one of the few community projects selected.

Richy Virahsawmy , owner of Richy’s Bar & Bistro in the town, installed a heat pump, double-glazed windows, and LED lighting thanks to the SEAI fund.
Richy Virahsawmy , owner of Richy’s Bar & Bistro in the town, installed a heat pump, double-glazed windows, and LED lighting thanks to the SEAI fund.

Other projects submitted by the town included a proposal by Clonakilty Rugby Club to change its heating system over from an oil burner to a significantly more efficient heat pump. Also on the list was a proposal by local restaurant Richy’s Bar & Bistro to install a heat pump, double-glaze its windows, and change its lighting system over to LED.

The overall value of the investment required was about €250,000 of which the SEAI contributed about €120,000, while the recipients paid the rest of the cost of the initiatives and, says Brian McSwiney, chairman of Sustainable Clonakilty it’s been very successful:

“The feedback has been positive. They’re saving money. The LED light systems are already paying for themselves and will pay for themselves within two years and the heat pump for the rugby club will have paid for itself in four years.” To date, he says, Sustainable Clonakilty has received no private applications for the grant, but down the road organise hope to include a number of applications for more efficient energy systems from private house owners - particularly from householders who experience difficulty paying fuel costs.

“People are very interested in seeing how the changeover of a lighting system to LED for example, will pay for itself and they tell me there are seeing the savings already on their electricity bills.” Sustainable Clonakilty, which began life in 2006 as The Clonakilty Carbon Countdown group, has about 100 members .

It believes that by promoting local, practical sustainable actions the group will encourage people to begin making lifestyle changes that would facilitate sustainability. The group regularly holds public talks and engages in visible initiatives around the town such as tree planting, vegetable growing and Energy Fests.

Friday February 26 is the closing date for application to this year’s Better Energy Communities scheme.

Find Sustainable Clon on facebook or visit www.sustainable clon.ie


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