Newsview: Here's all you need to know about the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme

Rose Martin look at a new scheme that allows commercial suppliers of clean electricity to sell to the grid.

Along with the announcement this week of subventions for PV solar panels, Minister Denis Naughten also announced the creation of the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme, (RESS) the week before, a new scheme whereby commercial suppliers of clean electricity will now be able to pitch, at auction, for the right to sell on to the grid.

That’s the top line stuff and it wasn’t very long before Cork-based Amarenco, an offshoot of its solar-farm, French parent company, was gearing up to put it’s dormant planning permission into action to start work on a ring of solar farms throughout Cork county.

It seems we’ll see mirrored, shiny rows of PVs on a lot of prime, south-facing hills throughout the country very soon now that the money is there. And on neighbour’s roofs too, probably, as the newly announced grant of €700 per kWp, (peak kilowatt output) now applies since July 31 with money being paid out around October, according to the Minister’s statement.

The other line in the announcement of the RESS was the most pertinent for the plain people of Ireland, apart from a shift from guaranteed fixed prices for renewables to “a more market-oriented mechanism,” the scheme offers a blueprint for communities to make and then sell back to the grid, their own locally produced energy.

The Minister’s statement said that the RESS would include “a community-led category and community-capacity building measures” which would in turn “provide opportunities for communities to play their part in Ireland’s renewable energy transition. But this was followed by the more ambiguous: “Projects looking for support under the new RESS will need to meet pre-qualification criteria including offering the community an opportunity to invest in and take ownership of a portion of renewable projects in their local area.

Aha - the small print. So communities will get a cut of renewable energy in farms run by commercial entities — for free?

“A national register of community benefit payments will also be established,” the statement said.

Logically, this assumes that if a community invests in a renewable project, then it has to allow a renewable project. A carrot approach to wind farm Nimbyism? Or a smooth win-win passage for solar farm technology? And financially, what’s the benefit — would communities get more than a new pitch or sponsorship of a yearly floral festival?

Better still — wouldn’t it be great if communities got together to make their own energy for their own use — there must be many rural places who’d fancy their chance to be Ireland’s first off-grid town?

The idea has been trialled in Cloughjordan, of course, but their ‘communal’ dispersal of assets has led to some problems, so any community venture, would have to be a solid, legal entity, perhaps with Credit Union backing? There’s no reason that the large companies should, literally, have the field to themselves.

Fields of solar farms, while not noisy or bird-killing affairs, (that we know of), are a handy, passive way of generating electricity and with a clever, driven, local committee microgeneration at village level could work towards the Minister’s vision that communities “are central to the design of the new scheme”.

And support from communities would have “a transformative impact on renewable energy projects right across the country”.

Either way, we’re facing a big, renewable deficit, we’ve missed our 2020 quota and the new elements of the Government’s green energy strategy have been pushed out to 2030.

Solar PV grants for the home and the rollout of the RESS scheme are measures aimed at achieving 32% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. A small thing, perhaps, but a move in the right direction, however,for most environmentalists, the Government’s response has not been fast enough or inclusive enough.

This is the Environmental Pillar’s response to the Minister’s PV announcement: “It is difficult to see how the plan will play a role in significantly bumping up our virtually non-existent rooftop solar capacity to supply renewable electricity to the grid,” it said on Tuesday.

And this gridlock has been a major problem up to now and answers as to why the national grid can’t pay for domestic microgeneration are not forthcoming. It appears to be something that Government is also shying away from so far.

Feeding into and taking back from the grid seems the most logical and easy approach to microgeneration and if a massive upgrade of our network is needed then why not explain this and, secondly, maybe do something about it?

As Environmental Pillar spokesman, Oisin Coghlan said: “The scheme will offer a grant as opposed to giving individuals a right to sell surplus electricity back to the grid at a fixed price. The grant will also only apply to owner-occupied dwellings, leaving out commercial enterprises and community buildings.

“This means that business owners, community centres and farmers with large warehouse, factory and shed rooftop space, will miss out on the support on offer and will end up having to try and compete with developers through the new auction system, announced in the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS),” Coghlan said.

However, he did welcome it as a step in the right direction, but with the caveat that “the Government has missed a great opportunity...”

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