The “Brown and White Report” – A Breath of Fresh Air

Earlier today the Brown and White Report was released. This was perhaps the most famous report in Ireland not to be released, as its existence has been an open secret for some time but its contents remained just beyond the fingertips of the popular media, perhaps because most of the popular media are simply press outlets for the political administration and their big-business cronies.

The full title of the Report is “EVALUATION OF GRID LINK STAGE 1 REPORT”, Presented by Malcolm Brown; MA, MBA and Tony White; MBE, BA, MBA, DPhil, FIE (BW Energy Limited).

http://www.rethinkpylons.org/library/BWEnergyReport.pdf

When one compares this piece of work with the subject of its analysis, the phrase ‘chalk and cheese’ is woefully inadequate. The writers of this report deserve the letters after their name.  The writing is clear and concise and backed up by a proper research methodology, and their conclusions are refreshingly preceded by a premise and an application of the facts.

This is to be contrasted with the Grid Link Report which contains phrase-gems like “desktop survey”, a euphemism for a Hail-Mary Google search and cutting and pasting anything that seems remotely relevant. Another popular phrase, in what can only be described as a written insult to the intelligence, is “vantage survey” which one would assume means standing, for example, next to Mahon Falls in order to be able to properly survey the Mahon Valley and Dungarvan Bay, when considering the significant impact of the proposed corridors. When one reads the report and notices the paucity of detail – even the failure to mention well-known historical, archaeological and cultural landmarks that are to be found in the proposed corridors – one realises that ‘vantage point’ probably means the basement office in EirGrid HQ.

What does the B&W Report say? I would urge you to read it yourself, but for those, like me, with very short attention spans or very little time to sit down and read, this is my understanding of the Report:

The B&W Report clearly shows that the GridLink Stage 1 Report fails to address two key issues, one strategic and one financial. The strategic issue is that the more wind turbines that are connected to the national grid, the more unstable and dangerously volatile that grid becomes.  This increases the risk of blackouts, the very thing that Minister Rabbitte claims the Grid25 will avoid – a claim he repeated, with his characteristic lack of tact, after the devastation recently caused to so many communities by the freak storms and hurricane winds. The authors point out (and yes, their figures are supported by solid research, unlike their EirGrid counterparts), that Ireland already has the largest wind power percentage contribution to renewable energy in the EU but still plans to more than double current capacity to meet 2020 targets, a point recently made on this blog and by other commentators.

“Connecting a large proportion of variable wind power to a relatively small, islanded network leads to increased risks of uncontrollable changes in frequency of the network. This may force the entire system to shut down leading to extended power ‘blackouts’.”

The key financial issue that the EirGrid Phase 1 Report fails to consider is the huge financial cost of the Grid 25 scheme. The Irish consumer already pays one of the highest electricity tariffs in Europe (where the EU on average is far more expensive than the USA and other developed economies, one of the reasons for the EU Commission’s suggested abandonment of specific renewable targets). The implications of the Irish consumer funding further levies for the increasing number of wind turbines (including paying for them to be switched off when not needed) plus the huge cost of building massive interconnectors to export wind power to the UK and France, will combine to further increase the cost of living for Irish citizens. Coupled with this is the harm caused to our industrial competitiveness (as has happened to Germany) as multinationals will leave our shores to go in search of countries with lower power costs.  When one considers the increasing likelihood that the UK will not want Irish electricity as it has Scotland’s wind power, the financial rationale of the Grid 25 scheme becomes dubious. The final straw is the alarming fact that wind power exports will not count towards Ireland’s renewable targets, which surely was the whole point of the exercise?

 The authors of the B&W Report suggest that Ireland refocus its energies away from wind power and looks at other forms of renewable energy, particularly where this will create domestic jobs.  The current Grid 25 project, as has been previously and consistently shown, will destroy many jobs, particularly those in the tourism and farming industries:

Croatia is the most recent example. In October 2013 it refocused its policy from wind power to biomass, biogas, cogeneration plants and small scale hydroelectric schemes. It is claimed this will cut the cost of meeting Croatia’s 2020 target by 34% and create substantially more domestic jobs.”

Was this Report commissioned by a client opposed to Grid 25? Undoubtedly, as BW Energy is not a charitable foundation, but rather a consultancy that prepares research reports for payment. The Government is not the only entity allowed to hire outside experts for advice, and Rethink Pylons, as I understand it from their website, does not have a political agenda, but is all about trying to balance the debate.  However, as it was paid for, it is for this reason that it is necessary to read the Report carefully and critically, ensuring that the research methodology is correct and consistent, and allowing for the degree of bias that will always be present, albeit unconsciously, towards the client who is paying your wage. Even with that extra level of scrutiny, this Report stands up to be counted, unlike the EirGrid Report which withered even under a most perfunctory gaze, as evidenced by the 35,000 submissions generated in opposition to it (and to which there has still not been an official response).

One must also examine the pedigree of the writers, and determine that they do not have ties with energy companies or wind farm investors or related capital, like a number of the recently exposed experts on the Government’s payroll. Check them out yourself at http://www.b-wenergy.com/expertise/index.php. I was certainly impressed with their wealth of experience and solid qualifications.

More importantly perhaps, given the authors’ commercial interests, and with my lawyer’s distrust of most experts, I always look at the identity of the organisation paying the expert’s bill. In this case it was Rethink Pylons, a voluntary organisation comprised of hundreds of community organisations around the country, hardly comparable to the financial behemoth that is EirGrid, with its multi-billion budget and seemingly inexhaustible supply of funding. I would have expected Messrs Brown and White to go for the big money offered by Eirgrid, but they chose to go with David, rather than Goliath, which undoubtedly cost them a huge amount in potential earnings. That makes them trustworthy in my book: “Show me the money” works for me, every time.

Amidst the all-pervasive stink of corruption and cronyism which hangs over the present administration like a pall, and which we have had to breathe in for a long time now, the Brown-White Report is like a breath of fresh air.

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from practice in 2002 to take up a full-time lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). He is an accredited and practising mediator and is busy writing a book, with Dr Sinead Conneely, on Mediation in Ireland. His current interest is Ireland’s energy policy and its impact on the people and the environment. He is also researching the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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