The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) launched their survey findings into attitudes towards wind and solar energy farms. The objective of the survey is to understand the impacts of these infrastructure projects on people who live in their nearby areas, to inform an equitable and socially sustainable energy transition. The survey was an initial step to track the impact of projects developed under the government’s Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).
Key findings from the research are:
- Most households close to new wind or solar power projects have positive attitudes to the project close to them.
- Across rural Ireland, general levels of support for wind and solar energy projects remain very high, regardless of whether people live close to new projects or far away.
- A large majority of the public living in rural areas supports government policies that secure financial benefits for households and communities close to new renewable energy infrastructure projects through ‘Community Benefit Funds’.
- Most people feel like they and their communities can have a say in the planning process. However, many still feel that the planning process is unfair, and that more effort should be made with community engagement and careful siting of projects.
Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD said, “many surveys have shown us that Irish people care about the environment and care about climate. They are also hugely invested in Ireland’s energy security, now and into the future. This survey combines both. It tells us that Irish people understand that the future of energy is green energy. It’s clean, it’s secure and it’s more cost effective than the expensive ongoing import of fossil fuels.”
“This strong public support also bolsters the country’s efforts to achieve energy independence and decarbonise the economy, giving us a shield against volatile fossil fuel prices and helping to boost Europe’s energy independence in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Renewable Energy Supply Scheme (RESS) and the supports that it delivers to households and local communities have been a big factor in this increasing pace of renewable deployment.”
“It is essential that we ensure a supportive policy framework for wind and solar power that delivers balanced and consistent spatial planning at national, regional and local level to allow us to harness our indigenous renewable energy. This will build on the public support for renewables and harness the major investment in communities benefits, inclusive community engagement and amenities for recreational access that are changing the public’s relationship with renewable energy infrastructure.”
Currently, 5 GW of renewable electricity capacity is connected to the national grid with 2022 being a record year for new wind and solar energy connections. At peak time, Ireland requires about 5.5GW of energy and renewables and a significant proportion of that is provided by renewable power. In the first quarter of 2023, for example, 34% of Ireland’s electricity came from wind, and while solar continues to increase, on a sunny day earlier in May, 10% of the country’s energy was produced by solar power.
The national survey of attitudes is an early step in a long-term research programme to understand the socio-economic impacts of the RESS policy. To date, SEAI has commissioned studies to understand the ways in which community engagement in wind energy can be improved through public participation in decision-making, direct investment, co-ownership in projects and by enhancing developers’ practices in establishing community benefits schemes.
SEAI are planning further studies on the socio-economic impacts of the government’s RESS policy.
Speaking about the importance of the research, William Walsh, CEO of SEAI said, “citizens and communities are central to delivering the changes needed to reach our energy and climate targets. SEAI welcomes the findings from this study which demonstrate that nationwide support for wind and solar energy projects is generally very high. Continued engagement with communities is mission critical to delivering the energy transition, and SEAI are here to support every individual, community, and business in Ireland on their sustainable energy journey.”