NEWS that a group of 10 MLAS and MPS have written to the NI Secretary of State to promote a hydrogen economy has been broadly welcomed by two spokesmen from two Irish islands now espousing the merits of hydrogen.
Michael Cecil, Rathlin Development and Community Association Chairman said this week: “Northern Ireland’s newly restored regional government now recognises that practical and well resourced commitments that address the impact of the climate crisis and support the growth of carbon reduction and renewable energy sources must play a significant part in COVID 19 recovery plans as well as the new programme for government in the coming decade. Rathlin offers an ideal opportunity to trial the practicalities of this commitment. Relatively low level investment from government in ‘quick win’ initiatives such as home insulation, upgraded domestic and commercial heating plants, the promotion of electric vehicles and possibly electric bicycles for the tourism market would all have an immediate positive impact. Such an investment would also have a powerful impact against the current recession. It would strengthen the green tourism market and provide an achieveable best practice model for government to showcase and replicate elsewhere. “
A decade of progress for NI could be wiped out in the space of a year in terms of the economy and perhaps new incentives and directions now need to be adopted. The Economy Minister Diane Dodds is on record as saying that over 100,000 people could be out of work by the end of this year. Down south the government has made £26 million available to help tourism and hospitality businesses offset some of the costs of adapting their operations for reopening under COVID conditions. The COVID 19 Adaptation Fund will be administered by Failte Ireland.
Colum O Connell, Chairman of the Valentia Island Energy Group in Kerry said: “What we are looking to introduce here is a fundamental shift in how we think about decarbonisation. Other governments around the world are recognising the opportunities hydrogen can bring and are developing strategies to develop green hydrogen. Though hydrogen is included as an opportunity in the recent program for government, we need to see more at national level on what our strategy is. In Valentia we have been campaigning with our partners at Energy Co-Ops Ireland to get more visibility for our hydrogen vision. We are confident that this will get recognised for its potential and get backing from the government.”
In the coming year the recovery is going to have to start at home. Another lockdown would be devastating for the irish economy. The islands of Ireland are now being considered as part of a new option. There is a new manager and prospective owner of the Tory Island Harbour View hotel off the north west coast of Donegal, Mary Wrynn . She has said in recent weeks, “It was the seals and the cliffs and the puffins, everything sold me on the island.” Green tourism can be made sustainable and be part of a 360 strategy not in isolation argues Michael Cecil from Rathlin who says: “Green tourism must become 360 in strategic design rather than the piecemeal realty of today. It must start with the virtual presentation of a holistic strategy that includes the transport to the island. Producing small scale projects of green tourism such as plastic reduction and recyclable wrapping are important and immediately accessible actions. They are still more important as evidence of a greater commitment to a wider strategy. Almost half of the carbon pollution comes from the ferries that bring people and goods to and from the island. Addressing this issue would be a strong step forward that would have a strong attraction for visitors committed to the green dynamic. Achieving this step would drive forward many more projects that could shelter under its wing. If the fuel for the ferries could be produced on the island, then the impact on green tourism would more than double. Under that banner, electric bikes and other transport would not only be valuable but would be expected and the visitor interest would sustain and stimulate the island’s drive to go further with the commitment to green tourism.”
As the UK has become the first major economy to commit to a 100 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 its time to get on board with the Green New Deal. Visitors in Northern Ireland prefer to stay in accomodation with green credentials and 25% are willing to pay more for products and services that are eco friendly according to Tourism NI. Michael Cecil knows the direction we are all heading in saying: “Businesses on Rathlin have been ready and willing to respond to creative initiatives in the past that both make a valuable contribution to wider social issues and attract interest from a significant section of visitors. Rathlin was the first island around Ireland to be recognised by FairTrade Ireland for its commitment to Fairtrade products. In the last two years Rathlin businesses have spearheaded our campaigns on reducing plastic waste and working to prevent and remove marine litter. Rathlin was one of 10 islands around the UK to pilot a Cold Water Island Project, a programme to do the same, led by surfers against sewage and parley for oceans.”
Likewise in Co Kerry Colum knows the Valentia island experience can adapt to these changing times saying: “We believe there is massive potential in Eco Tourism, also referred to as sustainable tourism. There was a report issued on Eco Tourism in 2017 that said ‘35 percent globally are likely to book eco tourism holidays. Besides climate changes and the rise of eco-conscious consumers, trends such as overtourism, the desire for transformative travel experiences and the growing sharing economy are also driving the shift towards sustainable tourism. This is driving the appeal of eco-holidays among previously untapped cohorts’, destinations such as Valentia and Rathlin appeal to such markets.”
A request from the mariners for a light on Rathlin Island was first made in 1827 but due to differences of opinion between the Commissioner of Northern Lights in Edinburgh and the Corporation for improving the port of Dublin or Ballast Board, the final approval from Trinity House was not obtained until March 1847 and construction did not begin until May 1849. MIchael Cecil argues: “The development of the East Lighthouse project will be a powerful driver for targeted tourism, employment and vocational training, research and arts and crafts. It will be an attractive pull for visitors keen to understand the historic and present realities of island life.”
Paul McCormack the GenComm Project Co-ordinator stated “Hydrogen is the innovative energy link that delivers ‘oven ready’ offshore wind that communities such as Rathlin and Valentia can benefit from. Circumnavigating the obstacles of an electricity grid link by using GreenH2 as an energy vector opens the market for investment, development and green energy optimisation. The Hylanders 360˚ Destination Green strategy captures the zero carbon step change as the impetus for sustainable development on many fronts.”
The Rathlin lighthouse and the Valentia Cable Station can indeed become beacons for development, a fact not lost on Colum O Connell on Valentia who says: “As part of the Foundation Boards project to get UNESCO recognition for Valentia’ transatlantic cable program, funding has been made available by the government to restore the cable station and introduce a Digital Hub. This would be a major draw for families looking to move from cities to more rural settings utilising remote working as their main employment.”
Last month, Andrew Webb, Chief Economist at Grant Thornton said: “The lockdown and associated changed ways of living and working we have experienced have prompted increasingly vocal calls for this to be a moment where we grasp a new, greener, economy.” Both islands are willing to grasp the opportunity that now beckons. Michael on Rathlin does want to see more stimulus measures and argues the islands have the most to lose if climate change is not arrested. He says: “We are commissioning two significant research and feasibility studies on Rathlin over the next few months, one on renewable options and a second specifically on green transport. The reports will be used to lever financial investment, public, private or community to make the aspirations become realities. A positive stimulus for the Rathlin process would be the reintroduction of incentives for onshore renewable energy generation for islands.”
Rathlin has its own local Biodiversity Action Plan developed through consultation and support from committed friends in the NI environmental agencies. Small communities on these islands are ideal places to trial energy production from wind, wave and tidal But now the island can also possibly look forward to accommodating educational visits to see the islands energy hubs work. Michael Cecil does forsee such progress saying: “Innovative energy hubs will supply educational opportunities for study and research from primary school through to third and advanced education levels. They will provide opportunity for senior level research in the development of appropriate technology. Short day visits, including some of the other attractions of an island visit will set the value of green energy hubs in the immediate and global contexts of climate change and with strong visual and experiential impact. A small island community setting gives a chance to study the interaction between community, environment and energy production rather than large scale industrial complexes separated from the much wider communities they serve. Rathlin has been used to educational day visits from schools and universities and is increasingly providing opportunity for postgraduate research.
“The development of innovate energy hub facilities on the island, particularly linked to the facilities planned for the East Lighthouse site, will open the door for study visits that can consider future growth and technology in holistic ways, linking science and technology with biology and the environment as well as the human geography interactions with the immediacy of small, committed communities constantly searching for better ways to live in our challenging context.”
All this education can lead to job development too as Colum maintains on Valentia, arguing: “Our strategy if successfully implemented will be a game change in terms of job creation. Producing hydrogen from offshore wind has the potential to create engineering, marine and transport jobs. With the STEM education program you can have a number of education and research roles. Valentia and Rathlin are perfect for small concepts for a larger scale rollout at national level.”
The two testbeds for energy technology are ready !