Firms find it’s not easy being green

WE’RE being told, everyday by the Government and the EU, that “green” is the way to go, not only in reducing carbon emissions, but also in job-creation.

Yet, those in the green sector argue some government actions conflict with stated policies and that we are not exploiting wind, for instance, to generate power.

The Green Party has produced figures showing that 50% of Irish jobs created last year were green, and 50,000 jobs in the green economy are possible in the next decade.

Energy Minister Eamon Ryan has gone so far as to say these figures show that the Green Party has been delivering jobs and that people across the country are beginning to see “the recovery will be green”.

Areas cited by Mr Ryan in which jobs are being created include organic farming, energy-efficient construction, electric cars, biofuels, manufacturing, servicing and green electricity.

His hope is that such jobs are long lasting and will not disappear like the jobs in construction which have evaporated in this recession.

The big incentive to entice people to turn green is to prove they can save money, whether it’s by buying a cheaper, more fuel-efficient car, cutting home energy costs, or recycling more waste.

Some well-known companies, such as Munster Joinery, in Ballydesmond, Co Cork, have erected huge wind turbines at their plants, in an effort to make long-term energy savings.

But the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) claims Ireland is failing to capitalise on its outstanding wind resource, as league tables for installations in 2009 places us in ninth place out of EU nations.

According to European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) figures, Ireland installed 233 megawatts (MW) of wind last year – just one MW more than in 2008 – and accounted for just 2.3% of total EU installations in 2009. The league table was topped by Spain, with 2,459MW (24% of total EU installations) installed.

Ireland had a total of 1,260MW of wind power installed by the end of 2009 – 4.8% of that installed by Europe’s leading wind energy generating nation, Germany, and 6% of Spain, which has the second highest number of installations.

IWEA chief executive Dr Michael Walsh, speaking at the Institute of Technology, Tralee, said Ireland needs to accelerate turbine installations year on year if wind energy potential is to be fulfilled and targets met. Compared to other EU countries, we are slow to capitalise on a unique renewable energy opportunity, he pointed out.

“The positive is that in a downturn we managed to add 233MW of wind capacity in 2009 but that is not enough, particularly given that we have one of the strongest wind energy resources in Europe and that wind energy has enormous economic potential for Ireland,” he said.

Also, people using biofuels, which help create a healthier environment, are being penalised by the Government with the new carbon tax, which has been attacked by Nick Tierney, chief executive of Green Biofuels Ireland (GBI).

“Under this scheme the overwhelming majority of biofuels that consumers purchase will be taxed as if they were conventional petrol or diesel. This makes no sense. Consumers who use biofuels and reduce their carbon emissions should not then be hit with a carbon tax,” he said.

The biodiesel produced by Green Biofuels Ireland, in Co Wexford, is made predominately from used cooking oil.

In recessionary times, Irish enterprise continues to look more and more to the green sector for investment opportunities, while recruitment agencies are reporting a high-level of interest from people seeking to work in the sector. The value of this sector to Ireland is growing and is currently estimated at €3.6 billion.

Andrew Molony, commercial director of Greenjobs.ie, hopes the Government remains faithful to its pledge to create tax breaks for companies working in the renewable energy and environmental industries.

“We are likely to see a massive demand for qualifications in environmental biology, renewable and electrical energy systems, environmental management and specialist fields within science and engineering,” he said.

“Every day, we get people registering their CVs onto our site, which shows the level of enthusiasm out there. The slowdown in formerly dominant industries like financial services has forced the Irish workforce to look to alternative routes.”

However, he said the skills and qualifications of the Irish workforce do not compare favourably with some of our European neighbours, with Denmark and parts of Scandinavia arguably five to 10 years ahead of us.


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