In a major upheaval of the Irish energy sector, the Government has outlined how community groups can get into power generation under the first renewable electricity support scheme.
The long-awaited Ress scheme is designed to prompt a significant expansion of wind- (onshore and offshore) and solar-power generation over the next decade, including "citizen energy" options. The scheme is critical to achieving the goal of 70 per cent of Irish electricity from renewables by 2030, a key element of the Government's climate action plan, according to Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton.
The Government has approved key features of the scheme which, subject to State aid approval by the EU, will make up the first auction set to open next year. Under the system, energy providers bid for contracts, while communities will be allowed bid and be paid for power they generate locally.
The community element allows schools, sports clubs, small businesses and individual farmers to participate. Smaller projects involving roof-top solar systems will be supported under a microgeneration scheme yet to be announced.
"Ireland is currently 86 per cent reliant on fossil fuel. We must radically reduce this dependence and make the transition to cleaner, more renewable energy," Mr Bruton said.
“We are exiting from peat and coal to generate electricity and moving to clean, renewable sources of power, like wind and solar. The Ress is a flagship Government policy designed to deliver on our commitments to decarbonise our electricity grid, harness our natural resources and bring renewable energy into the heart of our communities.”
Wind energy capacity has grown by 50 per cent since 2015, the Minister said. “This auction could see capacity grow further by 30 per cent in the next three years, with solar and community participation,” he added.
Offshore wind projects are likely to get increasing support in coming years.
The Ress invites renewable electricity projects to bid for capacity and receive a guaranteed price for electricity they generate. The scheme will be open to a range of technologies that will broaden the renewable energy mix and enhance security of supply, Mr Bruton said.
The Government has approved the inclusion of a solar category, which would represent approximately 10 per cent of the overall auction.
Separately, an obligatory community benefit fund scheme “will provide opportunities for communities to play their part in Ireland’s renewable energy transition”.
Every project developer will be obligated to contribute to a community benefit fund at a rate of €2 per megawatt hour every year. This will generate a minimum amount of up to €6 million annually for communities living in close proximity to renewable projects.
The Ress will also mandate that individuals s or communities have access to investment opportunities in renewable energy projects, prioritising those people living close to the projects.
“I am keen that communities where renewable energy projects are being built are included in the project’s development,” Mr Bruton said. “Work on the establishment of an enabling framework to support community projects and participation is well underway and will intensify in the new year.”