‘Sustainable Energy Communities’ – the way forward?

Written by Liam Murtagh


How can communities – our parishes, villages, towns and county – become more energy efficient and develop more renewable energy? Such energy initiatives will benefit not just our communities; they will also have a positive national and global impact. Support for groups to undertake sustainable energy initiatives in their communities is being provided through the Sustainable Energy Communities (SEC) Programme which is funded by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). Liam Murtagh went along to a networking event to find out more.

On Saturday last, a number of border county sustainable energy groups came together at the Dolmen Centre in Portnoo, Co Donegal. The aim was to learn more about the SEC Programme and to share personal experiences in developing a ‘sustainable energy community’ in their areas. Coincidentally the event took place on Earth Day – it’s an annual global event and this year the theme was environmental and climate literacy.


The Dolmen Centre is a community resource centre that has a number of green energy features. These include solar panels and a geothermal heat pump. The Centre was built in the 1990s and on a tour of the facility it was pointed out the management of centre would now like to extend the building and bring the Centre to an almost ‘passive’ energy standard. Additional energy upgrade works being considered include extra insulation, replacement energy efficient windows and possibly a new wind turbine that would not just supply the Centre with power but would also export power to the grid.

 dolmen.pngPictured at the Sustainability Energy Communities border networking event at the Dolmen Centre, Portnoo, Co Donegal were Liam Murtagh, Castleblayney Sustainable Energy Group, Mel Gavin, IT Sligo, Seamus Dunbar, Manorhamilton, Leo Murray, IT Sligo, Kenneth Doherty, Dolmen Centre, Gillian Gannon, SEAI and Eithne Ní Lochlainn, Gortahork.


 Mel Gavin, a mentor to SECs in the border counties, reminded those attending that a SEC


Mel Gavin, IT Sligo and SEAI mentor

is a community in which everyone works together to develop a sustainable energy system. To do so, they aim as far as possible to be energy efficient, to use renewable energy where feasible and to develop decentralised energy supplies. Decentralised energy refers to energy that is produced close to where it will be used, rather than at a large plant elsewhere and sent through the national grid.


According to Mel Gavin, SECs can include all the different energy users in the community including homes, sports clubs, community centres, churches and businesses. The SEC Network in the border counties was there to help build capacity and share skills across communities.

At the networking event the five steps that SEAI recommends for Sustainable Energy Groups were outlined.

  1. Commit – develop a community charter and sign up a partnership agreement with SEAI
  2. Identify – energy master plan
  3. Plan – Establish goals, work programme
  4. Take Action – engage projects, finance, grants
  5. Review – assess impact, share learnings

The process gets repeated on a continuous basis and a mentor is available to the groups to advise on key steps on the journey. SEAI funding is provided to groups in order to develop their competencies and also for technical support.    Many SECs have only recently been set up in the border counties but there are a number well established community based sustainable energy initiatives around the country.


The event in the Dolmen Centre focused on the process by which Sustainable Energy Groups agree a partnership with SEAI and apply for funding for the development of an Energy Master Plan for their community. Some concern was expressed by groups in relation to the way SEAI funding is paid to groups retrospectively, on completion of a project or phase of a project. This involves groups seeking bridging finance which many group representatives felt creates unnecessary barriers for some communities participating in the Programme.

Despite the challenges, many groups will manage to access the substantial SEAI support that is available to groups wishing to undertake projects relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy in their communities. Further information on the Sustainable Energy Communities Programme is available at http://www.seai/SEC.

Events on in May can be found here

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