Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Renewable Energy Generation

10:30 am

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Today I am particularly interested in hearing the Minister of State's response to the plans for the offshore community benefit fund. The terms and conditions for the first offshore renewable energy support scheme, RESS, are out for consultation, but I would like to tease out how the scheme will be administered. While the consultation is ongoing, the Government has made a couples of statements that indicate its preference, namely a nationally managed fund. That is very different from the community benefit funds in respect of the onshore RESS, whereby each project administers its own fund.It is stated in the consultation documentation that one reason for this is that while a single, medium-sized, 500 MW offshore project could generate €4 million in community funding for a year, it would take 80,000 onshore projects to achieve the same level. According to the Government's document as well, when dealing with projects costing millions of euro, the cost of administering the funds could be reduced significantly by administering them centrally. We must be careful in this regard, however, because other factors beyond that of lowest cost are involved and should be considered when we are talking about community benefits. Communities' experience of how they have been treated onshore has not been a good one in this regard. They now have access to the community benefit fund, but the legacy of how they were treated by onshore wind projects remains.

Making the administration of funds national will mean that communities will miss out on developing skills and jobs in funds management, and this aspect should not be discounted by the Government. It is important that all community groups have access in this regard and that the administrative burden is not too high, but I urge caution regarding what will happen around the ownership of the scheme. I refer to there being a centralised, Dublin-based fund and, once again, applications being made to Dublin for these community benefits. It is essential, therefore, to get the model right, and I encourage the Government not to close the door on the opportunity of having these funds administered at the community level by individuals who live in the communities and know what will work for those communities. I say that because this is also part of what a just transition is; it concerns community ownership of the transition.

I would also like to hear about the plans regarding the climate-proofing of the community benefit fund. It must be ensured that it will be possible for the money used on projects not only to facilitate a just transition through microgeneration and similar endeavours, but also to have an ultimate outcome that will not result in making the climate crisis even worse. The projects the funding is intended for must be climate-proofed and must also create employment opportunities in the non-extractive sector.

I would also like to tease out some detail on the possibility of allocating a portion of the fund specifically to the small fishers who face unique challenges. They are going to be directly impacted by the development of offshore wind. These are communities that have been alienated for a long time by many Government bodies and by EU bureaucracy, and they should have a separate fund that they can access to enable them to be net beneficiaries of the development of offshore wind.

The community fund could also enable opportunities for marine research and allow us to learn more about the indicator species and the rich biodiversity we have in our marine area. Equally, we should not close the door on community ownership of offshore wind. While nobody is in a position now to do anything on that scale, we must explore co-operative models in this regard and definitely not close the door to communities if they want to become involved in creating their own offshore wind projects. This scheme should not just be about the microgeneration element.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.