Minister Ryan announces package of supports to expand community energy revolution

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, has today launched a range of new of measures to ensure communities nationwide will benefit from renewable energy.

The package includes:

  • Targeted supports for communities who want to develop their own renewable projects
  • Good Practice Principles that will ensure communities benefit from funds generated by other renewable energy projects in their locality
  • A new Steering Board to guide the development of the community energy sector

The Programme for Government commits to a ‘renewables revolution’ and reaffirms the challenging national ambition of at least 70% renewable electricity by 2030. To meet this target, the Programme notes that communities will play their part and, more broadly, Government will provide support to renewable electricity projects through the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).

According to Minister Ryan:

“We have seen in other countries, like Germany, that direct citizen and community involvement in the green energy revolution both benefits communities and builds support for the radical transformation we need to make to reach our climate goals. We’ve already seen seven community projects, (five solar and two wind projects) succeed in our first Renewable Energy Support Scheme auction. I want to build on this by providing communities with the expertise they need to develop more of these projects.

“A new Community Enabling Framework will assist and support communities through the complex process of electricity generation. Developed by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), it will provide a range of technical and financial supports at the various stages in the life-cycle of a renewable project including trusted advisors who will work closely with communities. The framework will de-risk the project development process for communities and will drive delivery on our ambitious community energy targets.”

Community projects are supported in a separate category within the RESS Scheme. However, all projects, including the 61 commercial projects, are required to set up a Community Benefit Fund. The Fund ensures that, in all cases, some of the benefits of renewable energy generation are shared with those who live locally, usually in rural communities.

The first wave of projects in the scheme will see almost €4 million in Community Benefit Funds being spent in local communities each year. With more auctions to come, it is critical that we put in place a robust and progressive governance system. A Good Practice Handbook for RESS Community Benefit Funds sets out how the funds can be best employed, for instance in supporting local climate action and biodiversity initiatives. In addition, the SEAI is launching a National Register of these funds which will ensure appropriate reporting and transparency across the years ahead.

The commitments in this scheme will help develop sustainable community energy projects across the country, and will support rural regeneration, social cohesion, capacity-building and community development.

Speaking just before the first meeting of the new RESS Communities Steering Board, the Minister said:

“Communities developing their own electricity generation projects is a new and exciting sector in our energy system. I want to ensure communities have a say in directing how this sector evolves. I have established a Steering Board, which includes several community representatives and advocates, as well as academic experts, to advise me on policy and implementation.”

Minister Ryan added:

“All in all, I believe this package of supports will inspire communities to generate their own electricity and will ensure dispersal of benefits from all renewable projects within the scheme. This package will also support the achievement of the increased ambition set out under the Climate Action Bill and the policies and measures in the Climate Action Plan 2021. Supporting communities in this way is good for the renewable sector, the green economy and rural Ireland.”

The SEAI’s RESS Community Enabling Framework is comprised of:

  • Contact helpline 01 8082162 and webpages established for the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme
  • Trusted intermediary (TI) service up and running – already guiding communities
  • Interim trusted advisor service up and running – technical services already being dispersed to communities.
  • First 3 guides for the information warehouse will be live on SEAI website in July: Onshore Wind / Solar / Planning and Grid
  • Grants framework in place Q4 2021 but declarations of interest open now

This framework of supports will encourage other communities to follow the lead of the seven community projects successful in the first RESS auction:

Project NameCompany NameTechnologyOutput MWCounty
Ballytobin SolarBallytobin Solar LimitedSolar4Kilkenny
Barnderg SolarTemplederry Energy ResourcesSolar4Galway
Clooncon EastClooncon East Single WTGOnshore Wind0.9Galway
Davidstown SolarDavidstown Renewables LtdSolar4.95Wexford
Dooleeg MoreCEARTH LTDOnshore Wind2.5Mayo
Lisduff Solar ParkClaremorris Energy CoopSolar4Mayo
Lurrig Solar FarmI.Q Solar LimitedSolar4Cork

Community Benefit Fund Good Practice Principles Handbook

RESS mandates all RESS projects to establish a Community Benefit Fund worth €2/MWh of generation. To ensure all parties are fully equipped to engage in this process the Department has published the RESS-1 Community Benefit Fund Good Practice Principles Handbook. The development of this handbook has benefited from a public consultation process earlier this year which included five interactive community town hall webinars and focus groups.

A key aspect of the operation of the Community Benefit Fund is that communities are fully involved in the decision-making process. They will shape the strategy to maximise the benefits of the funds for all members of the community. A particular focus of the funds is to support local initiatives that align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. When these funds become operational later this year and next, the projects expected to be supported are home and community hall retrofits, pollinator farms, cycling paths, educational materials and scholarships and sports clubs activities. The Handbook contains case study details of existing Community Benefit Funds in its appendices.

The SEAI has launched the National Community Benefit Fund Register. This will ensure the highest possible standards of governance will apply to the funds.

RESS Community Steering Board

The RESS Community Steering Board brings together a distinguished panel of experience and academic achievement in the fields of renewable energy and in community engagement and activism in Ireland. The Board will be decisive in shaping a tremendous opportunity for the development of community energy in Ireland.

Its membership is comprised of:

  • Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications – policy
  • Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) – grid policy
  • ESB Networks – grid delivery
  • EirGrid – grid delivery
  • Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) – implementation
  • Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD) – community advocate, Government
  • County and City Management Association (CCMA) – community advocate, Local Government
  • energy4all – community energy advocate, Scotland
  • 7 representatives from the Academic and Community Sectors

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