Q&A: How communities can generate electricity with Ress

New Renewable Energy Support Scheme to provide grants and loans for wind and solar

Wind turbines. File photo.  Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty

Wind turbines. File photo. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty

 

How can a community get into the energy business?

There are a number of new ways of getting involved in power generation, the most significant is by generating electricity using renewable energy, such as wind or solar power.

Under the new Renewable Energy Support Scheme (Ress), a framework to encourage development of a meaningful community electricity generation sector is being set up. It will provide financial supports including grants and soft loans and act as “a trusted intermediary network to work with communities through the various stages of projects”.

It allows projects to bid for support through an auction process, ie a contract to deliver electricity to the national grid with guaranteed price.

Who qualifies under the bidding process?

In a major opening up of the energy sector, communities, schools, sports clubs, and small businesses can participate together as a single community entity – and individual farmers – if projects are of sufficient scale. The Ress auction does not allow for multiple smaller installations to combine their output to meet the minimum threshold.

As the minimum capacity for bids is 1 megawatt, roof-top solar is unlikely to enter the auction because of insufficient scale. Individual farmers can compete in all categories – the minimum threshold equates to approximately 5 acres of solar PV.

Is this the only way communities can benefit from an imminent renewables revolution?

The community elements in the new Ress don’t end there. A mandatory community benefit fund must be provided by all projects successful in a Ress auction. The fund will be aligned to incentivise investment in local renewable energy, energy efficiency measures and climate action initiatives.

Individuals or communities will also have access to investment opportunities in renewable energy projects, prioritising those people who live close to the projects.

How can communities compete with the big energy companies?

The Ress provides for massive expansion of the renewables sector in Ireland with billions of investment. This will be attractive to foreign investors but as communities can’t compete with the big players with economies of scale, a portion of the first auction is being reserved for community projects.