I thank the Chairperson and committee members for the invitation to attend the meeting today to discuss empowering local government and communities to climate action. I am joined by my colleagues, Brian O'Mahony, Ruth Buggie, Gillian Baker and Andy Fox. I thank the committee for affording me the opportunity to present my opening statement.
The SEAI is at the forefront of Ireland’s clean energy transition. We are funded by the Government through the Departments of the Environment, Climate, and Communications and Transport. We have had a major transformative impact on the Irish economy and in the last decade, our actions have underpinned more than €1.2 billion in energy savings. We are catalysts for action through our grant and incentive programmes and capacity-building processes. Citizens, communities, businesses and other stakeholders are at the heart of everything we deliver.
The SEAI’s work supports the delivery of the climate action plan. The climate action plan outlines many actions supporting citizens and communities on their transition to a climate neutral Ireland, such as supporting sustainable energy communities and existing, supporting planned renewable energy schemes and enabling community-led climate action, including on microgeneration and retrofitting. The climate action plan commits to further strengthening the community energy framework, including community-benefit funds and community-ownership provisions such as in the renewable energy support scheme, RESS. It is against this backdrop that I will set out SEAI’s priorities and actions.
The SEAI delivers a number of programmes and initiatives empowering communities and enabling local climate action, including programmes such as the communities energy grant, CEG, sustainable energy communities, SEC, and RESS. In addition, SEAI works with local authorities on a range of other measures, such as supporting their decarbonisation journey, providing energy and data to support local authority climate action plans, supporting community energy officers and working with local authorities on decarbonisation zones.
The CEG programme aims to fund projects that deliver energy savings to a range of homeowners, communities, and private sector organisations. All projects applying for communities funding are required to include a community benefit to the project and to take a cross-sectoral approach. The preference is for larger projects, which deliver significant energy savings, to assist and support smaller community projects which may be less cost effective or require additional investment. Thus far in 2022, the SEAI has received 11 applications to support energy projects with a total value of €74.8 million. The level of grant support requested is €29.5 million. The current call for communities projects remains open for applications.
The SEAI recognises the importance of the citizen in our transition to a low carbon economy. The ongoing convergence of energy technology around the individual and trends towards smaller scale energy generation will give the energy citizen more power to help shape our future. It is essential, therefore, that we prepare society for newer technologies as we move beyond basic energy efficiency. This will see us promote new behaviours and technologies, beyond early adopters, to society as a whole.
The sustainable energy communities programme was set up in 2015 to support communities in the transition to a low carbon society. Communities are provided with a range of supports as they develop along the SEAI’s three-stage journey of learn-plan-do. The learn stage is the SEC network whereby communities are supported via mentoring and through a peer-to-peer network. The plan stage is the development of local energy master plans with 100% financial support from the SEAI and the development of a register of opportunities of projects that best suit the community. The do stage involves actioning what communities can achieve, with support from SEAI programmes, especially the CEG.
The 2019 climate action plan set a target of 500 SEC network members by 2025 and 1,500 by 2030.
The SEC network has 655 communities nationwide, and there are 12 local authority members within it.
On RESS, there is a new range of supports for communities that wish to develop a community electricity-generation project for inclusion in the scheme's auction. These supports include a combination of grants and trusted advisers who guide the projects through the process. The SEAI has developed an excellent online toolkit of supports and information on the key aspects of renewable energy, including wind, solar, planning and grid.
Another aspect of RESS that the SEAI is responsible for is the management of the community benefit fund national register. All RESS projects, both commercial and community, must pay into the fund €2 per MWh of electricity generated. The register has two main objectives: it will act as a transparent information resource for communities to identify where significant sources of funding are available in their localities; and it will have a central registration and reporting system that can be monitored for compliance. Over the lifetime of the RESS, the value of community-benefit funding is estimated to be in the region of €750 million. This is a significant investment in local communities from renewable energy projects.
The SEAI supports local authorities through the development of local authority renewable energy strategies, LARESs. LARESs aim to facilitate the consistency of approach to spatial planning for renewable energy by local and regional planning authorities, guiding the preparation of renewable energy strategies and assisting local authorities in developing robust, co-ordinated and sustainable strategies in accordance with national and EU obligations.
The SEAI public sector programme provides a range of supports to public bodies in the delivery of their 2030 targets. Local authorities are actively engaged in the partnership delivery of a range of pathfinder projects supported by the SEAI.
The SEAI also provides a range of best-practice guides, energy-reporting advice, supports for energy-performance contracting, dedicated energy advisers and energy management training and mentoring to local authorities. In addition, every local authority has been asked to select a pilot decarbonisation zone. The SEAI has worked closely with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to develop draft management guidelines for these zones. The majority of locations identified as decarbonisation zones are supported by existing SECs in these locations.
We recognise the challenge in empowering Ireland's citizens in the transition to a carbon-free future. We passionately believe the clean energy transition must happen urgently and we stand ready to support all of society on this journey. Our programmes are far reaching and have a proven ability to support and enable climate action. We are ambitious in our strategy to strengthen these platforms of engagement because the challenges ahead require us to work at pace and to deliver ever greater results, learnings and improvements in collaboration with key stakeholders. We thank our colleagues in the Department of Environment, Climate Action and Communications for their continued support and close collaboration. I welcome discussion with the committee, and my colleagues and I will be happy to answer any questions members may have for us.