Contracts given to 19 new Irish windfarms and 63 solar projects

5 Aug 2020

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The first auction of the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme will help with the ‘rapid deployment’ of onshore wind and solar projects in Ireland.

On Tuesday (4 August), Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Eamon Ryan, TD, announced the provisional results of the first Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) auction.

Under the auction, contracts have been provisionally secured for 19 new windfarms and 63 solar projects across the country.

RESS is a competitive, auction-based scheme that invites renewable electricity projects to bid for capacity and receive a guaranteed price for the electricity they generate for up to 16.5 years.

The scheme will operate for the next five years, with the potential for an extension, and an estimated total budget of between €7.2bn and €12.5bn. Last month, the European Commission approved State aid funding for the scheme.

“While these results remain subject to Government approval, the first RESS auction provides us with a platform for rapid deployment of onshore wind and solar projects at scale and at least cost, replacing fossil fuels on our energy grid,” Ryan said.

He described the results as “very competitive”, adding that developer-led onshore wind energy has been the most cost-effective technology available to Ireland to date, but that solar and community-owned energy projects will play a critical role in diversifying the country’s renewable generation portfolio in the coming decade.

A drop in prices

RESS is open to a range of renewable technologies with the aim of broadening the renewables mix and enhancing security of supply. In this first auction, there were specific auction pots reserved for community energy and for solar energy, with wind farms competing in the general pot.

The provisional price announced today by EirGrid for contracts in the general pot was €74.08 per MWh. This is lower than the existing cost of the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (REFIT) support scheme, which as of 2019 was €80.25 per MWh.

Dr David Connolly, CEO of the Irish Wind Energy Association, said that this represents a saving for electricity customers but that prices could drop even further in future auctions.

“We can do more, we can do better and we can be cheaper,” he said. “A number of industry sources have pointed, for example, to the decision not to index prices as having pushed up costs by as much as €10 to €12 per MWh.

“Others had to account for the possibility that the transmission grid will not be strengthened in the coming years, which would lead to wind generators being turned down or off as the system struggles to cope with rising levels of renewables. There are also a number of policy changes that the new Government can make that could halve the price of renewable electricity in Ireland.”

Connolly suggested that introducing taller turbines, a more efficient planning system and a stronger grid would “sharply cut” the price of power for consumers across Ireland.

Renewables targets

RESS is part of the Government’s plans to meet its 2030 environmental targets. Under the Climate Action Plan revealed last year, the aim is to have 70pc of Ireland’s electricity generated from renewable sources within the next decade.

A total of 2,236 GWh of energy was available at this first auction, with onshore wind winning 1,469 GWh and solar winning 767 GWh.

“This auction will deliver cheaper and greener energy to power Ireland’s homes, farms and businesses,” Connolly said. “It is the first big step to connecting the additional 4,000 MW of onshore wind energy we need to develop by 2030 if we are to run our power system with 70pc renewable electricity.

“It is also fantastic that alongside these new wind farms we will be seeing solar farms connected to the grid for the first time and new community energy projects coming through.

“These new wind farms will create jobs all over Ireland, support local councils and, under the terms of the new scheme, provide almost €3m annually in community benefit funding to local communities in rural Ireland. And most importantly, they will cut Ireland’s CO2 emissions and help to end our dependency on imported fossil fuels.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic