Thursday, 16 November 2023
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Renewable Energy Generation
3. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment about the small-scale renewable energy support scheme, SRESS, and the date on which it will be launched; how this process will differ from the renewable energy support scheme, RESS auction; what, if any, additional supports will be put in place as part of this process; if there are revised targets for the number of contracts to be awarded to renewable energy communities and then for the number of projects that complete all milestones; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50448/23]
I want to ask the Minister about SRESS. On what date will it be launched? How will this process differ from the RESS auction? What, if any, additional supports will be put in place as part of this process? Are there revised targets for the number of contracts to be awarded to renewable energy communities and for the number of projects that complete all milestones?
Through the first two RESS auctions, my Department has provided pathways and supports for communities to participate in renewable energy projects through the application of a community projects category. Through my Department’s continued engagement with renewable energy communities, RECs, there is evidence of significant challenges that REC projects may face with the auction-based nature of RESS, along with other barriers to project delivery. Therefore, support for communities for the development of renewable projects will now transition to SRESS. That scheme will not be auction-based; rather, it is anticipated that support will be through an administratively determined feed-in tariff.
This export tariff phase of SRESS, which will support small-scale and community renewable projects, is due to be launched later this year with the full scheme opening expected in 2024. It will offer a simpler route to market for community projects and will align more closely to the experience and capacity of the community energy sector. It is expected that SRESS will support a more sustainable delivery pathway to the renewable energy community target of 500 MW by 2030.
A set of technical and financial supports for community projects are currently available to communities in a community enabling framework under RESS. Similar supports will be available to community projects under this new support scheme.
The SRESS grants are already available for renewable self-consumers, above 50 kW and up to 1 MW, through the non-domestic microgeneration scheme and the business grants and supports scheme.
This is a really important departure. It is clear that RESS more broadly, as it has been applied, has not been successful in delivering community projects. There is a further priority question on the same issue. Under RESS 1, seven community projects were successful and only four are still in play. There is a question now as to whether all four of those projects will go to generation. One of the major hurdles is to do with connections to the grid. In previous replies, the Minister pointed to the role of EirGrid and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU. Connection is a massive hurdle for community groups. Will that be addressed in the new SRESS model?
I agree that we need to be far more ambitious and see far greater delivery in the area of community energy. The Deputy attended, as did I, the European Commission and CRU event last week on empowering citizens in the energy revolution. We need to be really ambitious and fast. The auction system has not delivered what we would want, which is why we are switching.
I also agree with the Deputy that one of the key issues has been grid access. Community projects often find themselves having to pay for upgrades to the grid, which makes the projects unviable. CRU, EirGrid, and the ESB at the distribution level, will have a vital role in making sure we provide and protect grid access for community renewable projects. We are switching from an auction system towards a system where there is a support price guarantee up to 5 MW, which will take out some of the risks. We will work with EirGrid and CRU to make sure the grid aspects are also addressed.
There is a spectacular opportunity for bottom-up climate action to empower, and power, communities. People are up for it. At the conference last week, I spoke to colleagues in the sector from across Europe. Our energy communities are based on a retrofitting programme. In most other European countries, they are based on energy generation, which creates the money needed to deliver retrofitting.
There are two elements to consider. Will there be additional financial support for connections? We need the renewable spatial plans. I hear from ESB Networks that these proposed projects are not well located in terms of connection to the gird. Second, as I asked in a priority question on a previous occasion, is there any scope to extend the deadlines and target dates for existing community projects to keep them in RESS?
The sustainable energy communities, of which there are some 750, are really important. They are very strong on retrofitting and they need to be strong on self-generation as well. Combining supply companies and generators is one of the examples from Europe we should be encouraging. The SEAI has a critical role in this regard. We need to de-risk a lot of the investment to the community sector. That does not mean waiting until every single risk is gone; it means the State must take on the risk and must ensure, in our regional, local authority and other development plans, that we provide for community energy projects and make sure they are not last in any grid deployment process. A whole variety of different work needs to be done by the regulator, the grid company and the SEAI to enable us to be faster, more flexible and more supportive of community power generation development. This project will start to make that feasible because there will no longer be the really complicated auction system. People know they will get up to 5 MW through if the grid, grant and other elements are sorted. It will be up to the State, through EirGrid and the SEAI, to make sure that happens.