A move to enable households, small businesses and farmers receive payments for electricity generated from renewable energy sources is to go before the Dáil this week.
If adopted, the Private Members' Bill being introduced by Brian Stanley of Sinn Féin would force energy providers, notably the ESB, to buy electricity produced by "microgenerators" including small communities, clubs and schools.
The Bill is likely to receive cross-party support in a similar way that a fossil-fuel divestment Bill and a waste reduction Bill have been adopted by the Oireachtas, Mr Stanley said.
The Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill would oblige suppliers to provide a “feed-in tariff’ to those who supply the electricity grid. Such a tariff is a mechanism where there is a minimum price established for electricity produced and sold to a supplier. It is usually to incentivise renewable energy production from wind or solar power.
Energy providers such as the ESB would have to establish a scheme to allow people sell the utility their excess electricity. There would also be an obligation on suppliers to provide at least 5 per cent of their electricity from microgeneration.
The scheme would reduce Ireland’s reliance on fossil fuels, “something which the country quickly needs to do to meet EU-imposed targets and avoid hefty fines”, said the Sinn Féin spokesman on climate action and environment.
Such schemes are the norm in other countries, particularly northern Europe, he added. The biggest difficulty currently was with the ESB, he believed – though the technology including two-way meters was readily available.
The Government has committed to supporting microgeneration but at this point is embarking on a pilot scheme targeting solar PV initially and domestic self-sufficiency. The State was relying on big power generation plants when the future “will be see thousands of small generation sources”, Mr Stanley added.
Deputy director of Friends of the Earth Ireland Kate Ruddock said the legislation, if adopted, would be a game changer for renewable energy in Ireland. "A fair payment scheme would change the economics of investing in small scale renewable energy, and would lead to small power generators springing up all over the country supporting local people and communities."
“Farms, schools, and businesses up and down the country could create their own local power plants and start making money for their own community, while reducing their carbon footprint. Right now, electricity companies won’t pay generators for the electricity they spill into the grid. The small producer has to give it away for free. That’s just not fair,” she added.
Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton has launched the community energy grant scheme for 2019. Applications are now open through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and up to €25 million of Government funds are available towards projects delivering energy savings to communities, including public buildings, homes and businesses.
“Helping homes and businesses to upgrade to more energy efficient premises is crucial to achieving Ireland climate change goals,” he said.
The scheme supports partnerships between communities, businesses and the public sector to deliver energy improvements in buildings. To date €125 million in community grants has underpinned over €300 million investment in upgrades to 17,500 homes and 2,000 non-domestic buildings. Resulting annual energy savings are estimated in excess of €50 million.