Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, has launched a range of new of measures to expand the community energy revolution 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.”