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Renewable Electricity Public Consultation (RESS)

Posted by Friends of the Earth on January 15, 2020 at 07:00 AM

The Government is consulting with the public on the next renewable electricity support scheme - The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS). Ireland can meet only about 30% of its electricity needs from renewables, so we really really need a new support scheme to allow more renewable electricity projects to get built. This scheme would support 3,330 GWhrs of renewable electricity onto the Irish market from onshore wind, solar, hydro, waste to energy, biomass CHP and biogas CHP.

The details of the scheme can be found here, and submissions are requested by email to ress@dccae.gov.ie by 5pm, 17th February. 

At Friends of the Earth we have been campaigning to make sure the transition to renewable energy is designed with people and communitites, making sure that people have the opportunity to participate and to benenfit from this major shift in the way we generate and consume energy.   Until now most energy projects are led and developer by large co-orporates or semi state organisations, with little or no participation by any 'regular' people, and little or no sharing of the benefits.  RESS turns that on it's head and it really is great!

Public consultations like this happen all the time, but they are almost always presented as complex, long documents and its very hard for members of the public to decipher and make an informed response.  But, even the consultation on this has been different.  Senior civil servants have hosted 3 workshops for the public to explain the new scheme and point out how and where people can take part in this transition to renewable energy that we all know we need. 

So, here's a quick summary of the community elements, and a brief note on Friends of the Earth's position:

- The Citizen Investment Scheme

A new Government backed investment scheme is proposed for every 'developer-led' renewable project.  All citizens will have the opportunity to invest in 5% of all projects, and will be guaranteed a return on their investment of between 8-13%.  It will be a safe and secure way for people to invest their money with really attractive rates of return, and guaranteed capital return.  Some are calling it the next SSIA for Ireland. Participation will be really wide, and could extend to anyone who lives in the EU, although locals will always be prioritised, and there are min and max investment offers of €500 - €20,000 by any one person.   

We think it's a great plan, and are supporting it, although will note that the rates of return are very high and could instead be tied to the project rate of return with a minimum return specified.  

- The Community Benefit Fund

The Community Benefit fund will be a fund collected by all 'developer-led' renewable projects, at a rate of €2/MWh.  There are quite complex rules for the distribution of the fund and a guiding set of principles for distribution will be developed.  The fund consists of both direct payments to 'near neighbours' within 2km of developments (25%), and to social enerterprises and community groups working on energy efficiency and climate action (50%) and local sports clubs and activities (25%).  Overall the purpose is to ensure those within the immediate locality of any developement will see a benefit from it.  

Again we are very supportive, but will be suggesting that the Community Benefit Fund and the guiding principles for ensuring community benefits are collected and extended by all projects, regardless of who owns the project or to whom the electricity will be sold (so that includes co-orporate projects and community led projects too).  We also think that for very small funds, the rules are overly complex, for example a small solar farm of 4 MW could have 20 'near neighbours' and might be paying out just a few € per year.  

- The Community-led Development

While the two main auctions will support 3,300 GWhrs of Renewable Electricity onto the Irish Market, a separate category of up to 30 GWhrs is proposed for community led projects.  It is proposed in recognition that groups of communities and citizens who wish to develop their own renewable projects, would likely not be able to compete against major developers with large portfolio's of projects.  The conditions for participating in this scheme are very specific, and allow developers to partner with communities under certain conditions (if 51% of the project is owned by the Community group).  A community is simply a group of members who chooses to participate, and all members will likely have to demonstrate their support by investing or donating money to the project to ensure that it can raise sufficient capital to get it off the ground. 

  •  A requirement for an open and voluntary membership, and a legal structure that prevents against restrictive membership (i.e. if you want to be a member, you can, no-one can pick and choose who can be in and who can't) 
  • Autonomous, democrative and co-operative decision making structures (i.e. one member one vote)
  • Lots of members (a minimum of 150 members is suggested) over as wide an area as possible, in the knowledge that community projects dont have their pick of sites, they have to go where the grid connection is possible, and drawing boundaries around communities is counter productive, as communities rarely fit neat geographical boxes!

We are very supportive.  As this categorgy is so small (1% of the whole auction), we'd like to see 100% community and citizen owned projects, so will suggest the min 51% ownership is increased.  We agree with the requirements for non restrictive legal structures, and think 150 members is a good minimum number and although the rates of return on investment are unlikely to be as attractive as the 'Citizen Investment Scheme', the goal of allowing the profits from renewable energy to be distributed widely amoung a variety of non traditional shareholders will only be met if lots of people consider it a safe and secure place for an investment. 

Friends of the Earth will be making a formal submission by the deadline on 17th February 2019.  We hope this helps!

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