Transparency in public energy policy

Slí Eile asserts that the culture of secrecy is alive and well in policy making in Ireland. Here’s the full essay.

The rest of this post is about a related topic, and the about an irregular commentator to this blog: Pat Swords.

Once upon a time, Pat asked the relevant authorities in Ireland for the benefit-cost analysis that underpins the public investment in wind power in Ireland. This is a perfectly reasonable request, as the public investment is substantial. There are three sources of money: tax revenue, reinvestment of profits by state-owned companies (which could have been paid in dividend to the owners aka the tax payer), and public services obligations (i.e., levies on electricity that are not quite taxes but feel the same way).

Pat’s request was refused, and so started a protracted legal battle, involving the Department of Energy, various other government bodies in Ireland, DG Environment, the European Ombudsperson, and the UN Economic Commission for Europe. There are a number of complications. Pat asked for information that probably should exist but as far as I know does not. Pat requested information under the Aarhus Convention, a UN treaty that was not ratified by Ireland. However, it was ratified by the EU, and Ireland has transposed the corresponding directive. Ireland’s renewable target is similarly derived from EU targets, the justification and even documentation of which leaves much to be desired. Europe part-funded some of the infrastructure that underpins the expansion of renewables. And there are other parts of the Acquis that may pertain to this case.

I’m no lawyer so I will not opine on the likely outcome of the case. I would have used less abrasive language than Pat is wont to. I agree with Pat that the renewables targets are expensive. I fail to understand that there are any benefits from having such a target. I am aware of the long list of wonderful things that are claimed to be benefits of renewable energy. I do not think any of them stacks up.

Most importantly, I think that a democratic government should be open and transparent, and be able to explain how and why it spends our taxes or implements costly regulation. There is often a good reason, or matters may be beyond our control.

If Pat wins this case, the ramifications could be widespread. Renewable energy is surely not the only area in which the Irish government has made dodgy and badly documented decisions. The Aarhus convention only applies, however, to policies that touch the environment.

Here’s the full story. It’s long, complicated, and occasionally intemperate.