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Renewable Energy Generation

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 4 November 2021

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Questions (5)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

5. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his plans to expand the solar PV output throughout the State; the way he plans to make solar PV more accessible to schools, GAA clubs, local authorities and farms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53882/21]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Environment)

My question is similar to others that have been asked and concerns a failure of Government to deliver on a potential positive in climate action. In offshore wind, we have a lack of a framework and regulation. In onshore wind, we have a lack of guidelines. We have similar issues with microgeneration. I ask the Minister of State his plans to expand the solar photovoltaics, PV, output throughout the State and the way he plans to make solar PV more accessible to schools, GAA clubs, local authorities and farms.

I thank the Deputy. The programme for Government commits to expanding and incentivising microgeneration and to developing a solar strategy to ensure a greater share of our electricity is generated through solar PV. The pending introduction of a clean export guarantee tariff will represent the first phase of a comprehensive enabling framework for micro and small generators in Ireland, including schools, farms, sports clubs and community buildings. This will allow them to receive remuneration from their electricity supplier for all excess renewable electricity exported to the grid, reflective of the market value of that electricity.

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, published a consultation on a draft enabling framework on 1 October which outlined the details for the introduction of the clean export guarantee payment. I understand a decision is expected to be published this month and a compensation regime expected to follow shortly afterwards. My Department is also developing a microgeneration support scheme. I expect a proposal on the supports to be offered for new installations under the scheme will be submitted to Government for approval later this year.

Regarding accessibility, my Department has engaged extensively with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the proposed revisions to the exemptions for solar installations under the planning regulations, to reduce barriers to micro and small-scale rooftop solar PV and open up exemptions to new building types, including educational, community and apartment buildings. It is expected the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will bring forward revised regulations early next year.

Finally, I understand that ESB Networks will shortly begin a trial of an updated and simplified grid connection process for microgenerators in the 12-50 kW range.

I thank the Minister of State. It is a missed opportunity to date. We see, and it was reported in the media during the week, the level of openness and the opportunities that exist to cover roof space with solar panels. The benefit of that in offsetting the cost of electricity, heating water and running businesses is there for everybody to see. It is a perfect example of where there is a willingness on behalf of communities.

I would like to hear from the Minister of State what the hold-up is in this. Is it intransigence at departmental level? Is it lack of political will from the Minister of State's party or his colleagues in government? What is the delay in realising this and when will the schemes be in place? I hear lots of commitment around plans, assessments and consultations but when will it be delivered?

In the Citizens' Assembly on climate, it came up that there should be a microgeneration scheme and there should be a tariff. It was said that people should get money back if they generate excess renewable energy in their homes. They should be paid by the electricity company. It was said this was the case in other countries so why not in this country? I wish this had gone live earlier. We are waiting for the CRU to approve a scheme later this month and, after that approval is obtained, we will put in place a compensation scheme setting the amount of money a person will get per unit of power.

The Deputy knows the will is there to do it. He will have seen there are solar panels on half the buildings in the North. They are further north and have less solar that we have. At the same latitiude, in Hamburg, for example, there are solar panels on every building. There is no reason we should not have that in Ireland, other than the regulatory regime in place. I am delighted it is changing and expect that, from the end of this year or the start of next, people will be compensated or paid for the solar they generate in their homes.

The Minister of State will have full support from the Opposition to move this on as quickly as possible. We need to see the detail of the proposals. My colleague, Deputy Stanley, published legislation some years ago on this and we still have not seen the type of action we need. Will the Minister of State confirm we will not be presented with a load of ridiculous exemptions that rule out buildings such as farm sheds, schools, public authority buildings or community centres on spurious criteria?

There are criteria concerning farm lands to the effect that if over 50% of the farm is used for solar, they lose the definition as agricultural land. The incentive is a perverse one and has a direct impact on the uptake. Will those anomalies be addressed in the proposals coming forward?

At the moment, there are planning exemptions that limit how many solar panels can be put on without having to apply for planning permission. We are working with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to change those exemptions so they are taken away and you can put as much solar on your roof as you want.

Will it be available to farms and schools? Absolutely. It is critical that people generate their own power because then they have a sense of ownership and of taking part in the green transition so it is not just that a foreign company comes in, invests money, generates electricity, takes it out of the area and the locals do not benefit. To achieve buy-in for a green transition and to get a just transition, we need people directly involved.

On the question of agricultural land being lost as a result of renewable energy generation, the idea of the transition for farming is to give farmers new sources of income and not to disadvantage them. It is critical they are not found through some technicality to be down in money. I will speak to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, about that.

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