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LOCALS TAKE POWER INTO THEIR OWN HANDS  Duncan Stewart highlights community role in renewable energy  

Duncan Stewart with Christian Keglovits of the European Centre of Renewable Energy Güssing
25 March 2010

In this season’s “Eco Eye” presenter Duncan Stewart travels to Güssing in Austria and the Aran Islands to look at ways in which people at community level can take matters into their own hands in generating energy. 

In this season’s “Eco Eye” presenter Duncan Stewart travels to Güssing in Austria and the Aran Islands to looks at ways in which people at community level can take matters into their own hands in generating energy. Click here to see the programme on RTE player.

In the 1980s, Güssing was a dead-end border town with a brain drain and a large hole in the public finances. As a result of the vision of Mayor Peter Vadasz and local community support, Güssing is now a carbon-neutral town with an increasing population and employment growth. It is widely considered a model town for all communities considering autonomous energy generation.

The turnabout came when the city council realised that over €6 million per year was leaving the community just to pay for heating. The locals realised that by burning wood pellets they could heat both public buildings and homes through district heating. This would save the community money and provide much-needed income to local farmers who would provide the wood.

Valuable funding to kick-start the project came from the central government in Vienna and from the EU’s Regional Fund. Soon Güssing was selling electricity to the national grid. With the foundation of the European Centre for Renewable Energy, new R&D projects followed. New spin-off companies producing wood-related products such as parquet flooring sprang up, creating jobs to keep young people in the locality.

Leaving the power plant, Duncan visits the local coop that sells products from within a 10km-radius. Coop manager Angelika Pail tells Duncan that farmers are paid three-quarters of the selling price for their produce, effectively cutting out the large grocery multiples. Angelika herself is an organic wine grower. Also featured is Farmer Stefan Hamedl who produces organic meat from a herd of 15 cattle while his wife sells bread with cereals grown organically on their land.

Against the background of the beautiful Schönbrunn Gardens in Vienna, Chritian Rakos, CEO of the Austrian Wood Pellets Association warns that “when the world’s economies begin to grow again, oil will rise to $200 a barrel - now is a good time to make the change to renewable energy”.

Back in Ireland, Duncan travels to Inis Mór where he learns that energy and food is almost entirely imported from the mainland. About €1 million per year leaves the island in exchange for oil alone, not counting electricity costs. Although wind is a plentiful resource, several attempts to build wind turbines have been hampered by planning regulations.

“Eco Eye” continues to enjoy immense popularity. Duncan’s trip to Güssing, which was broadcast on RTE 1 at 7pm on 23.3.2010, was watched by 355,000 people in the 15+ age category. This is a market share of about 30%.

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