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Here Come the Sun - Power to the People

Posted by Friends of the Earth on March 05, 2019 at 06:01 PM

Petition handover.JPG

A new law to force electricity companies to pay small renewable energy generators for their power was debated in Leinster House this week. 

It's hard to believe, it doesnt happen already, but small renewable energy generators in Ireland give their electricity to the grid for free if they can't use it all on site immediately. 

Kate Ruddock was giving evidence at the Oireachtas Committee meeting along with Paul Kenny from Tipperary Energy Agency, Jim Gannon from SEAI and Michael Manley from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. 

You can watch the debate online here,

or just Kate's speech here

Kate addressing Oireachtas Committee March 2019

"We met Leo Varadkar at Electric Picnic a few years ago. 

He signed our petition to support a fair payment for solar power.  At a burger truck late at night our Director spoke to him, he considered it and smiled ‘a fair payment seems reasonable.  Cant see anything wrong with that’.

Now he’s Taoiseach. 

And that’s what this is about.  Fairness. 

And the petition now has almost 21,000 signatures, and I thank Deputy Naughton for accepting it today.

Ireland’s record on climate change is not inspiring.  Despite agreeing to do so, we have failed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in any significant way.  Like An Taoiseach, I am not proud of our reputation as the ‘climate laggards of Europe’. 

I think people are angry about that.  And scared.  This committee is well aware of terrifying reality of climate science and the injustice that those who have done the least to cause climate change are suffering the worst effects.  It is painfully unfair. 

Scared and angry as people are about climate change.  I also see that they are motivated to participate in and embrace the solutions.  The solutions that transition our energy system from fossil fuels to renewable energy. 

Ireland excels at the community level, we have a rich history with organisations like the GAA and Tidy Towns.  And now, supported by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) a network of over 200 Sustainable Energy Communities are working around the country, developing plans to decarbonise their communities and to create jobs and build local resilience. 

But when it comes to renewable energy generation, they have been severely constrained and restricted in their efforts. Not because they are lazy, or not committed enough, but because the rules for generating energy do not work for them.  The rules work against them.  And its not just about selling power.  The rules around grid connection, and even planning permission do not work for small generators. 

We are working to support a network of local power generators with some of the truly inspirational energy co-operatives to build a community based virtual power plant (cVPP).  In this system communities and individuals invest in renewable energy generation, the power is sold to the grid and other members of the community can buy it back. 

We are also supporting these communities to install solar panels on schools in their locality.  With initial support from a philanthropic trust, we have applied for match funding under through the SEAI who provide grants to sustainable energy projects to pay for the solar panels. Students were invited to come up with ideas on what they could do in their community on the energy transition.

Schools are beacons of the community, centres of education, and host the people now who in our country will be most affected by climate change.  We were overwhelmed by the number and quality of the applicants, and to help pick the winners an online public vote received 20,000 hits in one week.  Not surprisingly, they want to play their part in the solution. 

Under normal circumstances however, for a school to invest in microgeneration does not make sense, because schools are not open almost 50% of the days in the year.  But, energy bills come out of capitation budgets, so every € not spent on energy bills is a € for students, and if income could be generated from the rooftop, that’s more € directly for schools. 

For the likes of these projects to be replicated and scaled up.  Projects where people and communities take the decision to support a sustainable energy development, that power needs to be measured, to be counted, to be valued.  

Preventing ordinary citizens and communities from selling renewable energy is akin to supermarkets only paying corporate farmers and forcing small farmers to eat all their produce and give the rest away for free. 

Microgeneration may not offer the MW’s of renewable power that will put us on track to our Paris Agreement obligations.  We will continue to need major investment in major energy infrastructure and large scale renewable development.  However, if we do not offer people the opportunity to fairly benefit from this energy transition, to see and touch and feel these technologies locally, their fears and opposition however will derail any best laid plans. 

Currently energy subsidies are paid to professional developers, large utilities and semi state organisations under the Public Service Obligation, which is a charge on all consumers bills.  The forthcoming renewable electricity support scheme (RESS) will include further subsidies, and does include a separate subsidy for community led renewable projects bigger than microgeneration, but notably not at first.  That’s not fair either. 

And while any subsidy regime can have distributional impacts, we see no logic for demanding that bill payers only subsidise professional developers, and why rooftop generators or community generators are different to these other actors… they should be able to benefit the same as the big guys. 

And, the benefits could be huge. 

A European think tank, CE Delft has estimated that almost half of the EU citizens could be producing almost half of the EU’s energy by 2050. 

From a national point of view, as far back as 2014 NESC recommended building social support to enable continued wind energy development, and strongly supported community and citizen participation.  Our White Paper on Energy recognises the importance of including people and recommends paying micro generators.  The citizens assembly similarly included paying for microgeneration.

And it is going to happen.  It is only a matter of time.  The EU has granted new rights to consumers to produce, store, consume and sell renewable energy. 

The only choice Ireland has now is whether to be dragged into this at a later date by Europe, or to welcome it and do it ourselves now and in doing so build the democratic, fair and renewable energy system we need.  Climate Change is not waiting.  We need to completely transform our energy system.  Let’s give some power to the people to do it too.   

Friends of the Earth support this Bill.

 

 

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