Clean energy in the greenest of places: live from Ireland's renewable energy conference

Greetings from sunny Ireland!  I am excited to be writing this from the beautiful village of Drumshanbo on the shores of Lake Allen, 1.5 hours drive west of Dublin near the border with Northern Ireland.  I was invited to speak at the inaugeral Robert John Kane Energy Symposium, Ireland's first conference focused on sustainable development of renewable energy, and am looking forward to the discussions almost as much as I did coming to this amazing country in the first place.

The RJK Symposium was organized by a team of dedicated people committed to supporting responsible renewable energy and transmission development in Ireland, with the goal of gathering input on good policies and practice from renewable energy experts around Ireland and the world.  My main contact has been Elizabeth Muldowney, Energy Officer for An Taisce, Ireland's leading environmental organization.  Elizabeth and An Taisce are working hard to address many of the same issues that The Wilderness Society is regarding renewable energy development, mainly wind power, here in Ireland, and it has been fantastic sharing ideas with her.  She will be on my panel later today, and I'm very much looking foward to the discussion.

Arriving on Tuesday in Dublin, I had the day to wear off the jet lag walking the city, taking the requisite tour of the Guiness brewery (my grandmother insisted it was not to be missed), and catching some traditional Irish music over a shepherd's pie for dinner.  A perfect introduction to Ireland.

Wednesday morning I met with Elizabeth and her colleague Ian at An Taisce's office, a beautiful old building in the center of Dublin.  We discussed the challenges and opportunities that Ireland is facing as it meets it's 2010 target for 15% renewable energy and works towards it's goal of 40% by 2020, an aggresive and exciting target.  Much as in the United States, there is great enthusiasm for the opportunities that clean energy provides, from tackling climate change, to economic and energy security opportunities, but there is also great concern that projects be sited in the best places and built in the best ways.

After a lunch with Willem de Kleijn, Advisor for Sustainable Energy in Holland and another co-panelist at the Symposium, we headed into the countryside towards Drumshanbo.  Arriving at Lake Allen was truly spectacular, a beautiful blue lake with gentle rolling hills all around.  I could see why this place was selected, and not just for it's beauty - three wind farms are also clearly visible on nearby hills, spinning away.

Last night we had a welcome presentation from Professor Tadhg Foley of Gallway's Northern University of Ireland, about the life and works of Robert John Kane, namesake of the symposium.  Mr. Kane was well respected as developing the first well known cost-benefit analysis of energy resources, focused on the coal resources of this very part of Ireland.  After a pint with the attendees, I headed off to bed to be fresh for the panels today.

My panel is focused on the question of whether Ireland should create an energy-specific permitting body, and what keys for sustainable development should be incorporated in their policy.  I will be sharing the panel with a number of well-respected experts here, including Elizabeth and Willem, as well as Aiden Corcoran, the head of Eirgrid, Ireland's transmission grid operator, and Gabriel D'Arcy, CEO of Bord na Mona, a company famous for peat bog harvesting that is looking to get into the renewables business.

I'll be focusing on the importance of stakeholder engagement and guiding projects to low-conflict places with my short presentation, and am most looking forward to the Q&A session with the audience and the breakout sessions afterwards.  We will be pulling together recommendations that will be presented to Ireland's new Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, when he arrives to speak at lunch tomorrow.

It's time for Irish breakfast, so I'm off, but will report back after the conclusion of the Symposium.

Photo 1: Shamrocks by Alex Daue

Photo 2:Lunch with An Taisce staff and symposium panelists. Alex Daue (right front) sits next to Willem de Kleijn, Advisor for Sustainable Energy in Holland (right, second from front).