Applications open for community wind and solar farms

Successful applicants will be awarded State contracts to generate power for national grid

Visitors from Dingle on a recent visit to Templederry community-owned wind farm in Co Tipperary.

Visitors from Dingle on a recent visit to Templederry community-owned wind farm in Co Tipperary.

 

Communities across Ireland can now get into the renewable energy business by submitting bids to build their own wind and solar developments.

Successful applicants will be awarded State contracts to generate green power for the national electricity grid.

The option is under the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (Ress-1) which is open from this week for applications, with contracts awarded over the summer. It is the first time community-led renewable energy projects will be recognised and supported in Ireland.

It is expected at least 10 community ventures will apply for backing through an auction system. After many years of campaigning, it has the potential to be “monumental for communities” and is pioneering in context of Europe, according to Kate Ruddock, deputy director at Friends of the Earth (FoE) .

Communities building solar or wind farms generating between 1 and 5 megawatts of power can participate. Successful renewable projects will be awarded a Government-backed contract for power produced, enabling projects to obtain capital to begin installation.

Separately, a microgeneration scheme is being piloted, which would allow domestic households, schools, and sports clubs to generate smaller amounts of power using roof-top solar PV panels.

More than 3,300 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable electricity overall will be auctioned for all renewable electricity technologies in the auction, most of which will be granted to big producers.

Encouraged

Communities are encouraged to develop their own renewable energy projects through the separate “community preference category”. There will also be a mandatory “community benefit fund” for all approved projects set at €2 per MWhr generated, to go directly to communities living near major wind or solar projects.

“When a community or a group of citizens come together to build a renewable energy project through a co-operative structure it is powerful,” Ms Ruddock added. “Renewable energy displaces fossil fuels from the energy system so that is a huge benefit, but more than that, when citizens and communities are active participants there are so many other benefits.”

There are lots of owners, so economic benefits are shared widely, local jobs are created and tend to stay local, and communities can start to count on an alternative income stream, she said.

There is only one community-owned wind farm in Ireland, at Templederry, Co Tipperary. “With this new scheme we hope to see many more community solar, wind and hydro projects developed over the coming years.”

“There are still significant challenges for community energy projects to connect to the grid, and for small scale generators to sell any of their power. However, this is a very positive step in the right direction for energy democracy,” she believed.

It is an opportunity to build a virtual power plant; a network of generators of electricity that join together to operate like a single power plant. “The community-based version offers a community the opportunity to provide its energy needs with small-scale, distributed low-carbon technologies with participation from individual consumers; local energy co-operatives or companies, or SMEs.”

There are no new wires, or cables required. Communities and citizens can generate renewable power, the virtual power plant aggregates the power, and then distributes it back to its customers, Ms Ruddock explained.

Support

FoE are working with Community Power to support and enable communities to participate in building their own renewable energy solutions “by building a community-based virtual power plant” across the country. It is a partnership of community energy groups from Tipperary, Limerick, Galway, Mayo and Dublin.

Its chairman John Fogarty said: “This is a game changer for community-owned electricity generation. Ring fencing the community pot will make a huge difference. The advantage of a 100 per cent locally-owned development is enormous. All revenue generated remains within the area, giving a huge boost to the local economy”.

On Ress-1, Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton said: “Radically reducing our reliance on fossil fuel is central to responding to the climate emergency. This scheme is a crucial enabler as we decarbonise our electricity grid and move to clean, renewable energy.”

Round one would deliver an expected 30 per cent increase in renewables – equivalent of powering up to 640,000 homes every day.

“The community participation element is crucial. We must ensure local communities are involved in projects in their area if we are to deliver on the scale up required,” he added.

Some 30 GWh of capacity will be auctioned in the “community preference category”. To qualify groups must demonstrate at least 51 per cent of the development is owned by the community, and 51 per cent of all profits, dividends and surpluses derived from it are returned to the relevant community. Farmers can participate if there is a diverse shareholding. Details of RESS-1 are available on the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment’s website.