Overall assessment

Updated December 2022

Ireland’s community energy sector is still in its early stages of development. In order to jump-start the sector, DECC included specific support provisions for RECs in their RESS scheme, which aims to support renewable energy production in Ireland generally. Specifically, a percentage of capacity being auctioned off has been ringfenced for projects that qualify as community-led projects. Originally, projects needed to be 51% owned by RECs, although after the first round of RESS, this threshold was raised to 100% REC ownership, in order to avoid abuse. Under this scheme, RECs only need to compete with each other, instead of larger project developers. As part of RESS support, DECC has also put in place other supportive measures, such as access to expertise and advice, development assistance to help finance early works, and a special process to be able to apply for grid connections outside the normal ‘batch’ process. Furthermore, The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has been given the responsibility of setting up an online information portal, aimed to copy the CARES Scotland model. This will help establish an online one-stop shop where RECs can get information on permitting, financing and other technical/legal questions that must be dealt with.

Detailed assessment

Assessment of obstacles and potential for development of ECs

Nothing official has been published, although DECC undertook an assessment of different options for supporting community energy before designing its community energy supports within the RESS.

Removal of unjustified regulatory & administrative barriers

In Ireland, grid connections are determined in batches. There are only a limited number of applications that will be determined per batch. The RESS Scheme acknowledges the challenges community projects face in obtaining a grid connection. To allow space for different types of projects, a non-batch process, which allows consideration of 30 applications, is provided. Community projects are eligible to apply through this process. Of the 30 applications, at least 15 are designated for community projects. Community projects also have the added benefit of being able to apply for a grid connection without having planning permission (although such permission is required to obtain the connection). If after an assessment it appears that the grid connection cost will make the project unviable, the community can withdraw its application and get a refund of 75% of the application fees paid. The grid capacity is held for the community project for two years.

DSO duties around cooperation with ECs and facilitation of energy sharing

Not addressed in the transposition.

Fair, proportionate, and transparent registration & licensing procedures

Not addressed in the transposition.

Incentives connected to network tariffs based on a CBA

Not addressed in the transposition.

Non-discriminatory treatment as market participant

Not addressed in the transposition.

Accessibility to low-income & vulnerable households

Not addressed in the transposition.

Tools to access finance

The Community Enabling framework itself provides Grants for early, mid and late stage development including project design and planning, grid connection, submission costs and advice for project financing. It is also possible to get funding from Community Benefit Funds established by commercial project developers under RESS. Projects are required to demonstrate that costs are real.

Tools to access information

Information on community support under RESS is available on the website of SEAI. The Community Enabling framework itself provides advice and mentoring support to communities, both through providing access to mentors and specialist expert advisors. It also contains a Community Energy Resource Toolkit. This is aimed at providing practical guidance modules across a number of different areas (including technology options, business planning, project development stages, setting up an organisation / governance strategy) to support project development and delivery of a project. It was explicitly modelled after Scotland’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) toolkit. It contains modules on onshore wind, solar PV, planning processes, and grid connections.

Regulatory capacity building for public authorities

Not addressed in the transposition.

NECP reporting on enabling frameworks

Not addressed in the transposition. Member States are required via the Governance Regulation (2018/1999) to report on their enabling frameworks for RECs by 15 March 2023.

Support Scheme adapted for RECs

Form of support for community production projects:

2 way Feed-in premium.

RECs taken into account when designing eligibility/participation requirements:

Ireland’s RESS Scheme explicitly takes into account “other appropriate policy considerations such as community considerations and renewable generation technology diversity objectives” into the design of the scheme. Projects between 5 MW and 4 MW that are community-led qualify for a special ‘Community Preference Category’ of RESS, which is a ringfenced tender process for community projects. Community-led projects are projects that are100% owned by a REC either by way of direct ownership of the project’s assets or by direct ownership of the shares in the Generator. Furthermore, 100% of the profits, dividends and surpluses derived from the project must be returned to the REC.

If the project qualifies, it is not required to submit a Bid Bond or Performance Security. Furthermore, a community-led project does not need to have planning permission to apply for a grid connection (although it is necessary before a grid connection can be issued).

Support for excess self-production fed into the grid

The Government is currently consulting on a ‘Clean Export Premium’, which would allow installations between 6 kWp and 50 kWp, which would consist of a guaranteed export tariff support for new installations, that is fixed for 15 years.

Community Benefit Fund:

Ireland’s RESS Scheme includes the establishment of a “Community Benefit Fund”, which must be set up by a Generator whereby it contributes €2 per MWh to such fund for the benefit of the community. There is a ‘Good Practice Principles Handbook’ that lays out a range of principles and guidance for Generators in order to ensure the successful operation and delivery of Community 63 Benefit Funds, including the need to ensure community participation in fund decision-making via the establishment of a local committee, which should encourage successful dispersal of funds.

There are additional rules for administration and distribution of funds including:

(a) in respect of Onshore Wind RESS 2 Projects, a minimum of €1,000 shall be paid to each household located within a distance of a 1 kilometre radius from the Onshore Wind RESS 2 Project. The 1 kilometre distance specified is measured from the base of the nearest turbine of the RESS 2 Project to the nearest part of the structure of the household, the location of which is identified in the postal geo-directory;

(b) a minimum of 40% of the funds shall be paid to not-for-profit community enterprises whose primary focus or aim is the promotion of initiatives towards the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goals 4, 7, 11 and 13, including education, energy efficiency, sustainable energy and climate action initiatives;

(c) a maximum of 10% of the funds may be spent on administration. This is to ensure successful outcomes and good governance of the Community Benefit Fund. The Generator may supplement this spend on administration from its own funds should it be deemed necessary to do so; and

(d) the balance of the funds shall be spent on: (i) initiatives successful in the annual application process, as proposed by clubs and societies and similar not-for-profit entities; and (ii) in respect of Onshore Wind RESS 2 Projects, on “near neighbour payments” for households located outside a distance of 1 kilometre from the RESS 2 Project but within a distance of 2 kilometres from such RESS 2 Project. The distance specified is from the base of the nearest turbine to the nearest part of the structure of the occupied residence, the location of which is identified in the postal geo-directory.

For its Offshore Competition Competition under the Renewable Support Scheme (ORESS 1), DECC has set up a Community Benefit Fund so that local coastal communities benefit from offshore renewables development. DECC is currently consulting on Rules & Guidance to include in ORESS 1. These Terms & Conditions will together set out the basis on which each fund must be established and how it must be conducted so as to be properly representative of the local community and wholly inclusive in all its decision-making. This includes regulatory and compliance obligations.