‘Turning a brown site to green’ – communities a focus of latest renewable energy scheme

The final results of Ireland’s first Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS-1) auction have been announced, which will result in support being provided for the development of 63 onshore solar farms and 19 wind farms across the country.

The minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Eamon Ryan has approved the final results, noting that the target for community projects participation was exceeded.

Seven communities will be “supported to produce their own power and share in the ownership of Ireland’s energy revolution” according to Minister Ryan, and he expects that the next auction “will have a higher share of community-based renewables”.

Five solar energy and two onshore wind community projects were successful in RESS-1. These projects are located across three provinces in counties Kilkenny, Galway, Mayo, Wexford, Clare and Cork.

The projects will be owned in the majority by communities and the revenues from their operation will be “cycled back into those communities” according to Minister Ryan.

‘Turning a brown site to green’

Speaking today (Friday, September 11) at the announcement of the successful RESS-1 bidders, JP Prendergast, chairman of the Claremorris and Western District Energy Coop, said that its 100% community-owned project will see a solar farm being put on “what was once a dumping ground – turning it from a brown site to green”.

Gráinne Blount, development manager of Natural Forces, added that the success of the community category has “paved the way for communities to be involved in the energy transition with real community ownership for energy projects”.

She added that communities are “hugely excited” at the opportunity to own the energy projects where they live, seeing it as an opportunity to “improve the lives of those living in the community and for communities to create the future they want”.

Speaking today, Minister Ryan said he feels the “community angle” is important.

He says this scheme allows communities to invest in projects that would “otherwise be out of the pocket of any ordinary individual”.

Ruth Buggie of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) said that when the authority reached out to members in August, the results showed that there are 48 community projects in the pipeline.

29 of these projects have a site already organised; eight already have planning permission; 24 said they wanted to apply this September for connection – nine for 2021 and 14 for 2022.

RESS-1 included the use of a 30GWh (gigawatt hours) preference category for community projects, approximately 1% of the auction volume.

Community energy accounted for approximately 1.5% of the overall successful auction volume.

The auction also includes mandatory community benefit funds for all projects. The community benefit fund under RESS-1 will deliver approximately €4.5 million a year to sustainable community initiatives targeted at those communities living in close proximity to the RESS-1 Projects.

The SEAI has already begun work on identifying priority projects.

Background on RESS

RESS-1 is the first Renewable Electricity Support Scheme by the government of Ireland. The scheme uses a competitive auction process to determine which generators receive support.

For projects that are successful in the auction, this support typically applies for approximately 15 years.

EirGrid ran the auction at the end of July. Of the 108 projects that submitted an offer price in respect of the auction, 82 projects have been deemed successful in the auction and 26 projects deemed unsuccessful.

A total of 114 projects applied to participate in the qualification process. The final results qualified 109, as three did not qualify and two projects withdrew from the process.

The frequency of future RESS auctions is dependent on the renewable electricity project supply pipeline. It is envisaged that a minimum of four auctions will occur between 2020 and 2025 to deliver on the 2030 targets.

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