September 14, 2020

A string of community renewable energy projects in Ireland get the green light.

Under the new renewable energy support scheme (RESS) several communities across Ireland will develop power generation schemes. The announcement made last week means that solar power projects at scale will be implemented across Ireland for the first time. Over 80 new renewable energy projects are now due to proceed after the Government approved the recent auction results enabling project bids to provide power to the grid at the most competitive prices available.

One particular community project will be located in Co Mayo and will include the development of a solar farm on an existing landfill site. Once completed, the solar project will provide sufficient energy to power the entire town of Claremorris.

Eamon Ryan, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, stated that the scheme would support the reduction of electricity prices by nearly 30% in the years to come. Ryan explained that renewable energy is a core part of their activities in terms of the climate challenge and will enable Ireland to work more effectively towards its climate goals. Ryan emphasised that the RESS scheme will ensure Ireland is set in the right direction and will lay the foundations for an effective and affordable renewable electricity market, capable of supporting a green economy and new sustainable employment opportunities.

The scheme will support an investment of €1.4 billion and create approximately 1,000 jobs nearly straightaway. The RESS scheme will enable a more stable platform for developing onshore wind and solar projects at scale and a more affordable cost. Offshore wind projects will then gain further support in subsequent auctions.

Mr Ryan highlighted the importance of the community side of the scheme. At present, seven communities will be supported with the production of their power and have a direct share in the energy transition across Ireland. A total of five solar and two onshore wind community projects gained approval from the RESS-1. The projects are situated in Kilkenny, Galway, Mayo, Wexford, Clare and Cork. The majority will be owned directly by the communities and revenues generated from the operation will be fed back to local communities.

JP Prendergast, the Chairman of the Claremorris and Western District Energy Coop stated how proud they are to be developing a complete community-operated solar project on a previous landfill site. Mr Prendergast explained that the project provides credibility and empower the local community and is a perfect case study for other areas across Ireland. The power generated from the site will be sold through Community Power, the first community-operated energy supplier in Ireland

According to reports, the costs associated with technology in the RESS are nearing closer to the wholesale electricity price and is intended to be consistently lower than the wholesale price shortly. The current average price stands at €74 per megawatt-hour, which is significantly cheaper than earlier schemes.

Kate Ruddock, deputy director of Friends of the Earth explained how vital the community element of the scheme was, with several community projects already preparing for RESS-2 if they can meet all of the grid connection and planning measures. Ruddock explains that the scheme represents a massive turning point for people’s involvement and ownership of renewable energy in Ireland. Ruddock highlights this is the first time community-driven projects have been priority access to the energy market and creates a clear roadmap for other communities within Europe.

The auction includes strict community benefit funds for all projects and generates in the region of €4.5 million every year to several sustainable community initiatives near to the existing approved projects. Shannon Energy and Obtain, a partnership between Ireland and Denmark have 11 solar projects gain approval. The projects will generate 120MW of solar energy, enough power to supply 20,000 households. The projects will be located in Cork, Galway, Longford, Meath, Offaly, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford.