Community projects priced out of renewables revolution

Published by Niall Sargent on

October 4th, 2019

There is currently no affordable way for community-led renewable energy projects to gain access to the national electricity grid, the Climate Action Committee has heard.

Speaking before the Committee earlier this week, John Fogarty of Templederry Community Wind Farm said that this issue is becoming a “huge problem” in contrast to most European neighbours “who openly encourage such developments”.

The Templederry wind farm in Co Tipperary remains the only community-led project in the country. Mr Fogarty said that the problem stems from the fact that citizens must compete with big developers “with large budgets and no affinity for the area or its inhabitants”.

These large projects, he said, take up all available capacity and create long queues at local power transfer stations, “deny local communities access to their own grid network”.

“Communities sit at the end of the developer queue that requires significant funding from people and communities, before one can even get a grid offer, which is a pre-requisite for accessing the market,” he added.

Even when a connection offer comes in, Mr Fogarty said that they are too expensive for community projects, citing three recent examples of grid offers to local projects ranging from €1.3 million to €2.9 million.

“These are not viable options and when eventually they are received, a lot of time, energy and money has been lost so the system is preventing these initiatives from ever getting off the ground,” he said.

There is currently has no technical or social obligation to give local projects priority access or to ensure reduced grid connection costs, with Mr Fogarty stressing that we need legislation to change this.

Workers installing solar panels Photo: skeeze

Advantages of community-led

Mr Fogarty said that locally-owned projects can have “enormous” benefits, especially for rural communities as revenue remains within the area, giving a “huge boost to the local economy”.

In Templederry, he added, the two locally owned wind turbines will generate more income for the parish than a large-scale 30 turbine development owned by an outside developer.

“Outside developers leave only three and a half per cent of revenue to the landowners for leasing the site of each turbine, plus a paltry subscription to local clubs and community groups,” he said, adding that political support for such a model “is a mystery to us”.

Farmers should also be involved in the transition to renewable, Mr Fogarty said. There are thousands of farm sheds and milking parlours across the country that could accommodate rooftop solar arrays, supplying farmers with cheap renewable energy. Under the right model, excess power could also be sold back onto the grid to supplement dwindling farm incomes.   

Yet, Mr Fogarty told the Committee, administrative barriers such as the need for planning permission, grid connection fees and cost uncertainty are ensuring that farmers are being excluded from the renewables revolution.   

Wind turbine, Ballyrogan, Dundonald Photo: Albert Bridge

Renewable support scheme

A portion of the upcoming renewable energy support scheme (RESS) auction scheme is going to be set aside for community-led projects.

The scheme will use a competitive auction system where the cost of support will be determined by competitive bidding between renewable generators.

“Ring fencing a community pot was a lifesaver,” Mr Fogarty said. “We need to make sure it is not abused by large developers and is followed by a system of affordable access to the grid.”

Critics argue, however, that there may be no grid space left when the community aspect of the RESS auction scheme kicks in as there are continuing issues with bottlenecks in the grid queue due to speculative solar applications by large developers. 

Also speaking at the hearing, the Chairperson of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) Paul McGowan said that it is developing proposals for the next round of connection policy that would facilitate more grid space for community-led projects.

In addition, he said that the CRU has proposed that community projects should be able to apply for grid space prior to applying for planning permission.

“The process for this will be consulted upon shortly with a clear focus on both facilitating local projects and ensuring that there are the appropriate levels of protection for such projects, as well as the wider energy consumer,” Mr McGowan added.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London