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Kinsale Adopts Energy Descent Action Plan Print E-mail
Written by Louise Rooney   
Tuesday, 28 March 2006

One of the most important decisions to be taken by any Local Council anywhere in Ireland in the last 12 months was the adoption by Kinsale Town Council of an energy descent action plan.

KINSALE – Ireland’s First Transition Town
Nestled in one of Ireland’s most picturesque harbours lies the historic town of Kinsale. Renowned as Ireland’s gourmet capital, Kinsale has lots more to offer besides sumptuous grub. The fringe jazz festival in October attracts enthusiasts from around the globe. The Summer months see the population of Kinsale increase four-fold, from 3,000 to well over 12,000, as tourists from Ireland and further afield descend on the town.

Fuelling the Future
The Fuelling the Future Conference was held in Kinsale last June. It was a terrific event that inspired all who attended to either continue in their efforts, or to adopt a new ‘Peak Oil related’ mission. Along with Catherine Dunne and Rob Hopkins, I was one of the principal organisers of the conference but was somewhat perplexed, afterwards, as to how to move things forward and generate more community awareness around these issues. I had always been of the mindset that it was up to individuals to make things happen in their own lives and then with time others would be inspired by their example. It began to dawn on me that given the impending peak in oil production, it would take more than individual effort and that we no longer have the luxury of time. Feeling frustrated with the lack of positive change on a grander scale, I thought the only way forward was to begin by motivating communities.

Transition Design and Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan
Towards the end of last year, Catherine Dunne and I were contemplating whether to organise another Fuelling the Future event and how to further the pioneering work of Rob Hopkins with the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan. (see the piece on Kinsale Further Education College by Graham Strouts)

It seemed a logical step to up our own [not for profit] company to handle both. The concept of having towns committed to specific social and/or environmental goals (Fairtrade for example) seemed an ideal template for towns preparing for Energy Descent. The name of the company came in a flash one night: Transition Design. The concept we would develop for implementing the Energy Descent Action plan would be “Transition Town”.

Some of our initial proposals are listed below:

• Develop the concept of ‘Transition Town’, i.e., a town making the transition from fossil-fuel dependency to a state of energy independence. Kinsale will be the pilot town in the programme. The criteria necessary for becoming such a ‘Transition Town’ will evolve during the process itself.
• Establish a steering group in Kinsale that will work with Transition Design, and help co-ordinate the various projects in the town.
• Oversee an Energy Audit of Kinsale; this will include education programmes and feedback sessions to the town. It will probably be the first project of its kind and scale in the country. After the initial Energy Audit of the town, an annual audit can be implemented to monitor progress in decreasing our C02 emissions, and our oil dependency as a town.
• Examine the energy efficiency of existing buildings (which will happen in the Energy Audit) and recommend the steps necessary to bring them in line with the new EU ‘Energy Performance Building Directive’, which passed into Irish law on 4th January 2006. This directive rates buildings in accordance with their energy efficiency, somewhat akin to the energy labels for electrical appliances. For example, a building with poor insulation and oil heating would receive a poor energy rating when compared with a well insulated building which uses a wood pellet boiler. The EU are pushing the EPBD as a result of commitments made under the Kyoto protocol, with the objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout Europe.
• Encourage new developers to use renewable energy alternatives, for both electricity and heat generation and to use more natural materials such as cellulose fibre insulation, as opposed to synthetic materials.
• Promote the Fuelling the Future conference as an international forum for the initiatives taking place locally and globally.
• Target the town’s hotels and restaurants and encourage them to implement sustainable practises from composting food waste, to buying locally grown organic produce.
• Create a community newsletter called ‘Transition Times’, which will include local project updates as well as feeding back the latest news from other global initiatives.

These are just some ideas. The community of Kinsale will come up with many more.

Benefits for Kinsale

The benefits to the town include:

• Generation of new income streams with a focus on ‘Localisation’, i.e., promoting local food, skills, products, suppliers and businesses.
• Massive savings in the town, e.g., energy efficient buildings can reduce heating bills by up to 50%.
• Creation of new jobs with opportunities arising in local craft skills, food growing/organic horticulture, training posts, eco-tourism, and so on.
• More visitors, business and investment to the town.
• New structures/facilities in the town that have been identified in the consultation process with the community, for example a Community Composting Scheme.
• Educational programmes for the residents and schools of Kinsale along the lines of energy-awareness, and the steps for achieving food and energy independence.

This is a very strategic move for any community to make and commit to. It is also a very novel approach. Both of these factors will lead to much publicity and attention for the town.

Kinsale Town Council Unanimously Support Transition Design

Councillor Fred Treacy was very supportive of the idea and on the 5th December 2005, Kinsale Town Council unanimously passed the following motion:

“Kinsale Town Council support the efforts of the not-for-profit company Transition Design in its initiative to act as process leaders in Kinsale’s transition to a lower-energy future and in developing the concept of a ‘Transition Town’; making the transition from fossil fuel dependency to a state of energy independence.” Kinsale once again made history.

Food Security
The next step has been another presentation to Kinsale Town Council (in February) to seek funding and support for this year’s projects. We will be liaising with the Kinsale Further Education College to establish a Community Garden which will grow and supply organic vegetables, herbs and fruit to the town. It is intended that the garden will be a focus of education and learning, while also supplying the town with fresh food. Food security is one of the major issues that need to be addressed in the town. With the accolade of ‘Gourmet Capital of Ireland’, Kinsale is well placed to achieve much publicity for the efforts and perhaps inspire other communities. Kinsale’s first Farmer’s Market was launched on 7th February. Miles Cattell is responsible for this effort, which he says took him the best part of 10 years! The key to food security in any town is the existence of a local farmer’s market.

Community composting is also another area which ties in nicely with the Community Garden Scheme. Our motivation is to educate people in the art of composting but more importantly visually demonstrate the value of resources and the cyclical nature of growing food, harvesting and composting. We feel that municipal collections of organic matter, while very necessary, also remove people from the connection with the earth. It becomes another ‘consumer’ service: pay the money and the problem goes away. Our approach is looking to the future: educate, engage, empower. If local people are involved in making compost bins, digging the garden, growing the vegetables and so on, the connections are clear to see.

Energy Security
This is the other pillar of our work. It will begin with an Energy Audit of the town. Again, we will require substantial funding for this initiative, which will be the first of its kind in Ireland.

Environmental Efficiency, a company based in Bray, Co. Wicklow, is preparing to begin this work which they estimate will take seventy five days to complete. It will be crucial to establishing the energy requirements of the town. Bob Sutcliffe of Environmental Efficiency says, “Before investigating renewable and alternative sources of energy in order for Kinsale to be sustainable, it is first necessary to minimise energy consumption as far as practical. This is because to move from non-renewable to sustainable energy sources will take time: energy use reduction can be implemented faster.... minimising energy use will [also] lower the required size of sustainable energy facilities such as wind farms or anaerobic digestion plants”.

Transition Design will also develop education programmes for the town people on energy use and efficiency, the emphasis being to reduce current energy consumption and then begin substitution to renewable alternatives. We envisage the whole Energy Audit process as being in itself a great awareness exercise for the town.

Global Family
Transition Design is in communication with other initiatives of this nature globally. Dr Jason Bradford and Brian Weller of Willits Economic Localisation (WELL), Willits, California, are very supportive. Brian will be visiting in the Spring to examine what we are doing. Richard Heinberg, the author of the internationally acclaimed peak oil book ‘The Party’s Over’, is also highly supportive. Torbjorn Lahti of Sustainable Sweden is in contact very frequently and has recently asked us to come into partnership with his current efforts in Robertsfors, Sweden. His work and experience are extremely inspiring. For over twenty years he has been working with developing sustainable municipalities in Sweden. Quietly and without fanfare, he has achieved what we in Ireland could only dream about. He is an invaluable mentor to our process. His latest book The Natural Step for Communities is highly recommended for people interested in beginning a process like the Kinsale initiative.

We have also been contacted by Euan Williamson in Australia, who works with a sustainable planning authority in Melbourne. He is coming to Kinsale next Summer to share plans and ideas and learn from the different approaches used. Adam Fenderson of Energy Bulletin, an on-line resource which gives daily updates on how the energy crisis and sustainable solutions are reported in the media, had this to say “Our Bulletin carries stories on various solutions but we are particularly focused on Kinsale because it has the growing potential to be one of the most positive Peak Oil stories in the world in the not too distant future. Having surveyed so many proposed solutions, their promises and shortcomings, I believe the approach being adopted in Kinsale offers one of the best examples of how the challenges we face, if confronted early and with a positive attitude, can be used to imagine and create more prosperous, sustainable and lively local communities.”

Transition Management
We describe what we are doing in Kinsale as a process, not just an imposed plan in the town. The conclusions reached In a Dutch study on Transition Management¹, suggested that significant changes may take a full generation ( usually taken to be 25 years) to be implemented:

“A characteristic of transition management is that it achieves structural change gradually, without too much destructive friction in the form of social resistance. The rationale behind the gradual approach is that a transition can be brought about by the gradual transformation of an existing system, instead of the planned creation of a new system.”

Today we are dealing with the transition from fossil-fuel dependence to energy independence. What is needed is a truly sustainable foundation to our livelihoods so that over time we gradually reduce our dependence on oil-based products, and increase our use of sustainable alternatives.

Our challenge now is to re-invent our lifestyles. I believe that this process has already begun and that the movement is gaining momentum by the week.

With the Kinsale project we will have a working model to demonstrate the principles to others. Kinsale will be an example of local governance influencing national policy, rather than vice versa. We are committed to an exciting, challenging, yet ultimately rewarding community process which will bring more visitors to Kinsale, create more livelihoods in the town and more importantly, bring the food and energy security we so desperately require.

¹Rotmans Jan, Kemp Rene & Marjolein van Asselt, More evolution than revolution: transition management in public policy, Foresight, vol. 03, no. 01, Feb. 2001.


Lahti Torbjorn, James Sarah, The Natural Step for Communities, New Society Publishers, 2004


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