Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Citizen and Community Measures: Discussion

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent) | Oireachtas source

Many topics have been covered, but I would like to drill down into a couple of matters.

The issue of planning has been touched on. I understand the concerns. As we seek to build credibility and public support for sustainable energy measures, it is important to conduct community and environmental impact assessments. We can help social and environmental impact assessments to be successful by ensuring community engagement and ownership are part and parcel of community-led projects. I will look for a comment on this, but I accept that it is a much clearer proposition to look for these assessments after having a grid offer. It is very difficult to look for planning permission prior to knowing whether access to the grid will be provided, especially when such costs are involved. It seems that a grid offer is a fundamental sticking point. In that regard, I note that Mr. Fogarty mentioned three different 4 MW offers that came with completely different prices. I think the prices in question were €2.9 million, €1.9 million and €1.3 million. He mentioned that somewhat more acceptable offers were made when bids were combined. Was he referring to combined bids of the same community schemes?

I have a related question for the regulators. I am seeking to build on what Deputy Eamon Ryan was saying. I am concerned about two things, the first of which is the larger sets of offers which have been referred to as the large gate. What has it done for the timing and predictability of small-scale community initiatives? Is there the potential to introduce something that looks more like a predictable and consistent rolling mechanism for grid offers on particular scales? Rather than having to enter a giant competitive tendering mechanism without having any idea what will happen, communities should be able to make plans in the knowledge that a certain grid offer is likely to be made.

The second thing about which I am concerned is the consistent reference to the concept of the least cost technically acceptable offer. We know that this is not reflected in European procurement legislation which has consistently moved away from a lowest cost focus. While environmental and other factors may be included in the technical specifications, there is also the capacity for quality criteria to be reflected in the awarding mechanisms as part of the most economically advantageous approach to tendering and procurement. It is not simply in the specifications. I appreciate that a number of contracts are reserved and ring-fenced. We must look to place a stronger value on things like community involvement, sustainability and how it fits into other Government plans.

I ask the delegates to respond to the points I have made before I come back in on a different issue.

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