Sunday 8 December 2019

Now local groups can take on larger energy providers with wind and solar power laws

Project: Pat Donoghue, Noel Carey, John Power and John Fogarty from Templederry Windfarm. Photo: Fergal Shanahan
Project: Pat Donoghue, Noel Carey, John Power and John Fogarty from Templederry Windfarm. Photo: Fergal Shanahan

Caroline O'Doherty

Local groups wanting to set up wind and solar projects in their communities will have better opportunities to compete with large operators under a new agreement approved by the Government.

Private operators will also be obliged to contribute to a new community benefit fund at a set rate each year to recognise the impact on residents living in close proximity to renewable projects.

Details of the long-awaited Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) will be announced by Climate Minister Richard Bruton today.

It will replace the existing subsidy system for renewable energy operators with a competitive auction system, which will offer guaranteed prices for supplying electricity to the national grid.

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Unlike the existing subsidy, it will not be restricted to onshore wind projects but will be open to off-shore wind and solar projects and other renewable technologies as they develop.

The first auction is scheduled for early next year, subject to EU approval.

The current system has been heavily criticised for being cumbersome and weighted towards large corporate developers.

Just one community-owned project, Templederry Community Wind Farm in Co Tipperary, has managed to get off the ground.

Under the RESS, up to 30 gigawatt hours of electricity generation will be ringfenced for community-led projects but with the scheme expected to result in an additional 3,000GWh by the end of 2022, developer-led projects will still get the lion's share.

Measures to help community projects to enter the field will include grants and low-interest loans and the provision of advisers and intermediaries.

Mr Bruton said there would also be other opportunities for the public and communities to invest in private operations, prioritising those living close to the projects.

He is to announce further details on this aspect in the new year.

The new Community Benefit Fund, meanwhile, will require private operators to contribute to local funds at a rate of €2 per megawatt hour every year.

According to the minister, this will generate a minimum of €6m a year.

"I am keen that communities where renewable energy projects are being built are included in the project's development. The Government has agreed to make this a strong element of the scheme," Mr Bruton said.

The Climate Action Plan, published during the summer, sets a target of having 70pc of the country's electricity needs supplied by renewable energy projects by 2030. Currently around 30pc comes from renewables.

Irish Independent

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