How and when renewable electricity projects can connect to the national grid is possibly one of the most challenging elements of putting together a renewable project.

The process is complex, long, expensive and unpredictable. For community energy projects the process of grid connection is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to overcome.  The costs of connection can be enormous, and depending on where your community happens to be located in Ireland even getting a connection into the grid might be completely impossible.  It’s a unique disadvantage to community energy projects, who can’t choose where they are located!

The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities are consulting with stakeholders on the suggested changes to the process.  You can read our formal submission here.

The only meaningful change proposed in this consultation is to remove the requirement for planning permission before seeking a grid connection, and this is very welcome, as planning applications can cost €€’s, which could be wasted if grid is an impossibility.  However, there are a few other fundamental barriers which also need to be addressed, if communities are going to have any opportunity to develop renewable energy generation projects in Ireland.

Here’s our take:

  1. Microgeneration should be bigger. It’s much much bigger across most of Europe. Here we limit it to 6 or 11 kW, and charge €350-€640 for an export meter.  We think more appropriate level would be 50kW, and access to a free Smart meter on demand.  Let’s fill our domestic and community rooftops!
  2. Non batch (up to 1MW) connection fees need to be a lot more transparent and Ireland needs to plan for a lot more than 30 connections per year. We have over 200 Sustainable Energy Communities and the EU Clean Energy Package says communities and citizens will have the right to sell renewable electricity.  Ireland needs to plan to process well over 30 connections!! Communities need to be able to create a business plan for a renewable generation project, knowing the costs of grid connection is essential.  A consistent per kW export price across the whole country would be fair.  The current system is highly prohibitive, and involves paying €800 and an unknown waiting period, just to find out how much the connection would cost without any indication of average costs or estimated costs.  Our understanding suggests quotes can vary from €2,000 to €30,000 just for the connection.
  3. Batch connections (above 1 MW) connection fees also need to be a lot more transparent. We suggest a flat rate per MW to make connection costs fair across the country.  Without this the cost of grid connection between two similarly sized projects could be close to €600-700,000.  Meaning ESB Networks will effectively control at what price communities will be able to bid in the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme auctions, and indirectly which communities will win!