‘Policy uncertainty’ around solar energy criticised

Solar energy companies will have to wait until next year for vital decisions to be made on how the electricity they produce is distributed and paid for.

That is despite the fact the first solar farms — fields of solar panels — have already been granted planning permission and plans are being developed for some 200 more.

Applications by solar promoters to connect to the national electricity grid in anticipation of feeding power into it have soared from just two in 2014 to 329 last year, with a further 143 this year up to the middle of June.

Some of those applications are speculative, but the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) says that more than 6,000 acres of farmland are under some form of solar contract, indicating serious intent by many promoters.

The IFA is critical of the “policy uncertainty” surrounding solar.

“There has been a phenomenal amount of engagement by developers with farmers and landowners over the last 12 months,” said James Murphy of the IFA’s renewables project team. “We were promised clarity on this area in June. We’re still waiting.”

Ireland is under pressure from the EU to increase the amount of electricity we get from renewable sources to 40% by 2020, with hundreds of millions of euros in fines looming if we miss the target.

However, companies say they cannot begin erecting solar installations until they know what level of state support will be available to subsidise the costly start-up phase, when they will be able to connect to the grid, or what price will be paid when they are connected.

The Department of Energy and Natural Resources began a public consultation on a Renewable Electricity Support Scheme two years ago and said a scheme would be in place by now.

It now says another public consultation will be needed, followed by European Commission approval.

“It is expected that a new scheme will become available in 2017,” it said.

In a separate exercise, the Commission for Energy Regulation is reviewing the procedures for processing applications to join the electricity grid. It said it “aims to take a decision on the matter in 2017”.


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