September 5th, 2017
Community involvement is set to be at the center of the Government’s long-awaited revamped support scheme for renewable energy, although micro-generation will not be subsidised.
Community participation, however, will be “designed into its very fabric” of the new scheme according to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE), which launched a public consultation on the new scheme yesterday.
Based on feedback from a commissioned assessment on community ownership models, the Department is proposing that all projects must offer community investment opportunities in order to qualify for the Renewables Energy Support Scheme (RESS).
Other key policy measures to encourage community involvement include the ring-fencing of electricity generation capacity (MWh) for community-led projects and facilitating access to the already congested National Grid.
Energy Efficiency Targets
The new scheme will aim to support the introduction of enough renewable electricity generation to help meet the 2030 renewable electricity target of 40 per cent.
Ireland is unlikely to meet its strict 2020 target of generating 16 per cent of its energy from renewable, almost half of which must come from renewable electricity.
Minister Denis Naughten said that the task of hitting our targets “cannot be overstated” and that we need to “harness the combined efforts of the entire country” to have a change of reach our targets.
He added that while industry has a “key role” to play, citizen and community involvement is also set to play an important role in determining the future make-up of the renewable energy market.
“I strongly encourage all stakeholders to have their say on a developing policy of great importance, one which will impact us all,” the Minister added.
Micro-generation left out
While recognising the role micro-generation – such as residential rooftop solar – can play in meeting our energy targets and increasing social acceptance of renewable projects, it is “more cost effective” to focus on medium and large scale projects, the Department said in a statement.
DCCAE said that it remains committed to developing small and micro-scale generation in Ireland, adding that the Department will work with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) to develop a separate policy as how best to support small and micro-scale generation. The SEAI is set to hold a workshop on micro-scale generation on 17 October, 2017.
While welcoming aims to increase community participation, the Renewables Chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association, James Murphy, expressed concern about the lack of support for farm-scale and micro-energy production.
“While Minister Naughten has asked the SEAI to look at micro-energy, the reality is that it will be a significant missed opportunity if farm-scale energy production is excluded from the RESS scheme,” he said.
He added: “The opportunity for farmers to use roofs of farm buildings to produce farm scale solar renewable energy for their families must not be excluded and Minister Naughten should reconsider his proposal to exclude micro-energy from the RESS scheme.”
The scheme will provide support for the likes of wind energy, biomass, hydro and ocean energy, waste to energy projects, and importantly, solar. The solar industry has yet to develop in Ireland as developers have waited for details of the long-awaited scheme to energy.
Speaking to The Irish Times, CEO of the Irish Solar Energy Association, Michael McCarthy was critical of the lack of clarity in the document as to the expected future ratio of support for the likes of wind and solar.
The new scheme is also set to see large-scale auctions and bidding between project developers across all renewable sectors for state support. Small-scale solar developers, however, have said that such a scheme will further push farmers and community led projects out of the market.
According to Michael Quirke, a farmer and owner of a small solar company, smaller projects would benefit more from a fixed feed-in-tariff system as community and farmer developments will not be able to afford the costs associated with an auction system.
Cost to Consumer
Electricity costs for households are set to rise due to an increase in the Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy, charged to all electricity customers to support energy policies.
Finances from the PSO levy currently subsidies renewable energy generation such as wind and ESB-run peat-burning power plants.
This public consultation will remain open until 4PM on 3 November 2017. Responses can be submitted to RESS@dccae.gov.ie or in writing to RESS Consultation, Electricity Policy Division, Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, 29-31 Adelaide Road, Ireland. D02X285.