Wednesday 26 October 2016

Communities to be enabled to take a stake in new renewable energy projects including solar

Published 12/05/2016 | 02:30

John Mullins plans to develop 40 solars farms in Ireland
John Mullins plans to develop 40 solars farms in Ireland

COMMUNITIES will be offered the opportunity to invest in renewable energy projects under proposals being developed by an energy cooperative.

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Energy Co-operatives Ireland (ECI) said that options were being explored in relation to solar farms generating up to 5MW of power, which would produce electricity for the equivalent of 4,000 homes.

The move comes amid growing concern from rural communities about large-scale renewable energy projects, particularly wind, being imposed upon them with no community gain.

Under the model proposed by ECI, developers would meet the full costs of development including design, environmental assessment, planning and grid access. Once the project is given the green light, the community would be offered the opportunity to invest.

ECI said a possible return on investment would be 6pc per annum. "The exact percentage ownership by a community will vary depending on the size of the project," ECI chief executive Cormac Walsh said.

"There will also be a free gratis percentage figure of the project diverted to the local energy co-operative at the very centre of the development. This regular payment will last for the lifetime of the project and should be used specifically to benefit those local people in fuel poverty and who would not be in any financial position to participate directly in this initiative."

The move comes after the Government's White Paper on Energy said there was a need to explore community ownership of renewable energy projects.

The chief executive of solar energy company Amarenco, John Mullins, has also said he planned to develop 40 solar farms across the country by 2017 if a tariff is in place, and the company was open to developing community farms where a stake of up to 30pc could be held by local people.

ECI said it was in negotiations with two developers and two communities, and that the lack of community ownership was a "huge issue".

"We're actively talking with a number of co-ops we already have. Behind the scenes, it is being actively discussed," he said.

Mr Walsh added it hoped that credit unions would create a fund to help drive investment, which would allow communities to invest,

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