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Planning for sustainable energy

SEAI-John McCann -LR-03

John McCann from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland looks at how spatial energy planning at the regional, county and local level will underpin the delivery of demanding sustainable energy policies and targets.

There is a growing consensus among world leaders on the urgent need to take action on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to avert catastrophic effects of climate change. Recently, in announcing his Climate Change Plan, President Barack Obama said: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change. We’re the last generation that can do something about it. We only get one home. We only get one planet. There’s no plan B.”

Globally, commitments to address climate change were first made under the1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which led to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce GHG emissions based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The second commitment period of the treaty is coming to an end and a UN climate summit in November 2015 in Paris will finalise future commitments and implementation.

The EU 20-20-20 policy vision to address climate change requires, by 2020, an EU wide 20 per cent reduction in GHG emissions, 20 per cent average use of renewable energy and 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency. If we are to maintain global warming within a safe limit of 2˚C, reductions in GHG emissions must be accelerated. The EU 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy has defined further EU wide targets of a 40 per cent cut in GHG emissions compared to 1990 levels, a minimum 27 per cent share of renewable energy consumption and minimum 27 per cent energy savings compared with the business-as-usual scenario.
No individual member state targets for renewable energy have been defined and it is anticipated that the target will be met from through a rational economic exploitation of EU wide renewable energy resources. Key policies to deliver these 2030 targets will be a reformed EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), new indicators for competitiveness and security of energy system, e.g. price differences, diversification of supply, and interconnection capacity and a new governance system based on national plans for competitive, secure, and sustainable energy.

Ireland’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) and National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP) set out how, by 2020, we will achieve our individually binding national targets, of 16 per cent contribution of renewable energy and 20 per cent reduction of energy demand. Achieving these agreed targets will require significant investment to redress the effects of inappropriate prior development and to put in place renewable energy infrastructure.
Ireland is in the process of developing the policies that will contribute to achieving the more ambitious 2030 EU targets. The government published the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill in January 2015. After open public consultation, an Energy White Paper is in the final stages of preparation. In 2014 the Government also published an Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan for the development of Ireland’s extensive offshore RE resources, including offshore wind, wave and tidal energy, recognising that these offer rich potential over the coming decades.

Spatial planning has a fundamental influence on future energy use through both ensuring that future planned development, of all kinds, anticipates transition to the most efficient energy technologies, infrastructure and modes of use and through facilitating sustainable development of the renewable energy sector. Spatial planning may lock-in future energy use for 50 to 100 years, as it inherently defines the range of energy use choices within the development pathway it prescribes. To maintain Ireland on a long term trajectory towards decarbonising its energy use, the impacts of spatial plans on future energy use and CO2 emissions must be subject to regular assessment and optimisation.

SEAI has developed tools to assist spatial planners in defining the spatial energy landscape of the future. One such spatial planning tool is the SEAI methodology for Local Authority Renewable Energy Strategies (LARES). Local authorities are required to adopt wind energy strategies in response to the statutory requirement to identify land for windfarm development. SEAI convened a steering group to oversee the preparation a methodology and template to act as a guide for local authorities in preparing more holistic Renewable Energy Strategies (RES).

The LARES methodology aims to facilitate consistency of approach in the preparation of RES, and to assist local authorities in developing robust, co-ordinated and sustainable strategies in accordance with national and European obligations. The methodology also aims to address common issues encountered with RE resources, technologies and projects.

The methodology defines the actions in the key steps to deliver a LARES, these are:
• The Preliminary Phase, which clarifies the local need for a LARES and identifies whether Strategic Environmental Assessment or Appropriate Assessment are required;
• Step 1: The Policy Review, identifying all renewable energy and other relevant policies;
• Step 2: Identify the Renewable Energy Resources and their potential for exploitation;
• Step 3: Review the Constraints and Facilitators that might affect exploitation; and
• Step 4: Develop the Local Renewable Energy Policy.

The methodology provides an outline LARES structure and detailed guidance for planning authority staff on the execution of each of the steps to complete a LARES. It also details the primary sources of information and data, relevant stakeholder organisations and land use interactions for renewable energy developments. The timing and scope of public consultation at key stages in the development of a LARES is also highlighted.

Under its Sustainable Energy Communities programme SEAI has also funded several local authorities and communities to develop their local Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs), which were initiated under the Covenant of Mayors. It is recognised that, in order to embed SEAP energy targets in spatial plans, additional tools will be required. After funding the development of South Dublin County Council’s SEAP in 2013, SEAI provided a grant to the Council in 2014 to carry out energy demand mapping to inform its LARES and to provide a basis for incorporating the SEAP within the County Development Plan. The City of Dublin Energy Management Agency (CODEMA) assisted in developing the methods to be applied to energy mapping and have since applied these to energy mapping for Dublin City Council and are carrying out similar exercises for Fingal and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Councils.

Spatial energy planning at the regional, county and local level will underpin the delivery of challenging medium- and long-term national policies and targets for GHG emissions, energy efficiency and renewable energy. SEAI has fostered the development of tools to facilitate spatially based energy analyses and has recently revamped its online Geographical Information System (GIS) to facilitate planners who engage with spatial energy strategies and plans. The new online SEAI Energy GIS allows the SEAI renewable energy resource atlas datasets to be utilised within the user GIS environment. The resource atlases will in future be supplemented with new energy demand and efficiency datasets and tools. SEAI has recently contracted for national heat demand mapping and, when completed, this spatial energy dataset will be available for use by local authority planners.

Spatial planning for energy and emissions reduction has a key role to play in reducing GHG emissions to avoid severe climate change impacts. Regional, county and local energy and emissions reduction plans must cascade national objectives to the local level. Robust energy and emissions impact analyses during the development of spatial plans are required to avoid long term lock-in of energy use inefficiencies and high GHG emissions levels. Retrospective action to address the effects of such lock-in may be slow to implement, be too late to avert climate change or be prohibitively expensive. Plan A must get it right first time!

SEAI - CMYK (300dpi)