Community Energy (Co-ownership) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to create a planning condition that enables local communities to invest in a renewable energy project; to create a new prescribed class of development to which such a planning condition can be attached; and to provide for other related matters.

This Bill seeks to do what is set out in the Title, namely, to support the community ownership of new energy projects. The Taoiseach and other Ministers will be aware that this issue is critically important in regard to meeting our emissions reduction targets and also developing our own renewable energy, rather than relying for 90% of our energy on fossil fuels, as we do at present.

It takes the example of other countries like Denmark, where similar legislation has been introduced mandating a certain requirement in respect of new projects above micro-generation - if it is wind farm, above 500 kW in size, or if it is a photovoltaic project, above self-generation on a roof. In such circumstances, we argue that there should be a mandated requirement for 30% of the equity in that project to be owned by people living within the local community area. This is achievable and practical and will have a material benefit in terms of spreading ownership of the new renewable energy projects more widely throughout their local areas. This will help to raise equity for such projects, which is an important way of lowering the cost and getting them over the line, and reduce the level of uncertainty in the planning process that is making it more difficult to reach the renewable energy targets that we have set for ourselves. There are other benefits, for example, people being informed of what is happening in their area.

We are setting out a variety of co-operative models that could be used to manage such an ownership stake. It should be practical to introduce, with a geographic area being set. For example, people within 5 km of a development would be given first right to an equity stake. We could start at a €250 share and go up to €10,000, which would give people the right to own and be a part of the revolution that is taking place in this country and everywhere else.

We are looking for mechanisms to help fund this through credit unions and post offices. We would support the development of a new public banking system, for example, the Sparkasse model, to make lending to these types of development possible. It is lending to an area when there is certainty that we are going in this direction. Every country is. Hardly any new generation using fossil fuel infrastructure is taking place in the EU. That day is gone.

We need to get the changes and the delivery of the new renewable power supply right and avail of the fact that it is now cheaper and more competitive. We are in a different world than we were ten, 15 or 20 years ago, in that the cost of onshore wind, solar and even offshore wind has reduced to the point at which they are probably the cheapest power supplies available to us if we get the market rules and governance systems right. We are not doing that currently. That is why Ireland ranked 49th out of 60 in a major study on climate change last week. The Government and public administration system are continuing to get it wrong. In the negotiations around the new EU directives on renewables, governance and market reform, our officials are the ones who are taking the most negative and restrictive position. This is doing significant reputational harm to our country.

The Bill, along with those European provisions, would steer us in the right direction by following best example and starting a necessary revolution in how to use energy efficiently and how it is owned. I hope that the Government supports the Bill and takes a similar approach to European legislation, which is up for negotiation currently. For this reason, we have introduced the Bill.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.