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THE MORNING LEAD
Most energy suppliers are still not paying households for solar power despite August promise
Only one energy supplier could confirm that it started to pay microgenerators – here’s a breakdown of what each company said.

MOST OF IRELAND’S energy suppliers have not yet started to pay households for surplus solar power sent back to the grid, despite customers being told that payments would start from July and be made by the end of August “at the latest”.

Only one energy supplier could confirm that it started to pay microgenerators – households, businesses or farms producing a small amount of energy mostly for their own use – before 31 August while at least eight had not yet commenced payment.

Microgenerators that produce their own renewable energy, which is most often done through solar panels, are supposed to be able to sell back any surplus power to their supplier under a programme called the Microgeneration Support Scheme.

It’s a scheme that has long been available in other countries and one that plans were first floated for in Ireland back in 2007 by the Fine Gael-Green Party coalition.

Since then, the importance of encouraging renewable energy generation has come into clearer focus as the threat of the climate crisis emphasises the need to dramatically move away from heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

The relevant legislation was signed into law in February and Climate Minister Eamon Ryan said that eligible microgenerators would start to receive payments from 1 July, depending on their billing cycle.

Both the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) stated that customers could expect to receive their first payment by 31 August at the latest, which would be backdated as far back as February in line with when the microgenerator became eligible for the scheme.

Despite that, the majority of energy suppliers did not commence payments in July or August and many microgenerators are still waiting for clarity.

EcoPower is the only energy supplier to confirm that it started payments before the end of August, while Energia, Electric Ireland, Bord Gáis, SSE Airtricity, Pinergy, Panda Power, FloGas, and PrepayPower did not.

The CRU, Ireland’s energy regulator, set out in a guidance document in April that “customers can expect the first payment by 31 August 2022 at the latest”.

In a new statement to The Journal this week, a spokesperson for the CRU said that it “expects all suppliers to put in place measures to make the first payment to customers at the earliest opportunity and had anticipated that some suppliers may be ready to make the first payment by 31 August 2022, with others indicating that payment measures will be in place by the end of November”.

“This recognises that suppliers require time to develop the necessary systems and processes needed to make payments to customers, following the date that export data was first made available to suppliers by ESB Networks,” the spokesperson said.

“Payments to customers will be backdated to when they either became eligible or to 15 February 2022.”

At the Department of the Environment, a spokesperson told The Journal that “work is ongoing at pace to ensure that all microgenerators will quickly receive payments for surplus electricity that goes back into the grid”.

“Microgenerators will not lose out while payment systems are put in place. Payments will be backdated to the date of eligibility or the 15 February 2022 (the date the regulations were enacted), whichever is the latest,” the department said.

“The CRU has asked suppliers to communicate their decision to their customers on when initial CEG payments will be made at the earliest opportunity.”

Without a storage system, the energy produced from a solar PV system cannot always be used in full by the microgenerator themselves, meaning that they can produce surplus solar power even if their building is not entirely ran on solar.

This excess energy is already exported to the grid but the new scheme means the microgenerator can be reimbursed for it. The price rates announced by energy supplier range from 13.5 cent per kilowatt hour to up to 20 cent.

How much power a microgenerator might be able to sell back to the grid will depend on how much they are producing and using. 500 excess units at a rate of 13.5 cent, for example, could be worth €67.50 back on their energy costs while 1,000 excess units at a rate of 16 cent could amount to €160, or if a larger system again could export 1,500 excess units at rate of 20c, that could be worth €300.

Last month, The Journal reported that industry experts and Opposition politicians were urging the government to take action to ensure the payments were rolled out swiftly, particularly in the context of the rising cost of energy bills, fears of energy shortages, and national targets for renewable energy.

“The talking has to stop and the walking has to start,” said Pat Smith, chair of the Micro-Renewable Energy Federation.

Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan said it is “deeply frustrating for people who took the initiative, spent their money and thought that they were contributing to climate action and they’re still waiting to be rewarded for that effort”.

It seems this is the low-hanging fruit and it’s been painfully slow.”

CEO of the Irish Solar Energy Association Conall Bolger pointed to the importance of incentivising renewable energy: “Every kilowatt hour that somebody makes in their home is one that doesn’t have to be made somewhere else. Scaling it up is definitely important.” 

A final scheme design for the Microgeneration Support Scheme has also still not been published even though it was due to come out between January and March under the Climate Action Plan 2021.

What did my supplier say?

Here’s a breakdown of each supplier’s response to queries from The Journal about the commencement of payments, as well as the rate they intend to pay if it has been confirmed.

Energia

“Energia is committed to helping customers on their green journey to reduce their carbon footprint with the Microgeneration Scheme,” a spokesperson said.

“As such, the company has a new tariff to enable those customers with registered microgeneration installations to sell excess electricity back to the grid.

“Eligible customers will receive 18 cent kWh for every unit exported. Payments will be made to customers bi-monthly and will start to appear on customers’ bills shortly.”

How much? 18 cent per kilowatt hour

Electric Ireland

“In line with CRU guidelines, a microgeneration customer’s first payment will be made by end of 2022 and this will be backdated to the latest of the following dates:

  • 15 February 2022
  • The date the customer’s NC6 was processed
  • The date the customer’s smart meter was installed.

“Electric Ireland will rebate 14c/kWh for electricity generated, and this is subject to periodic market review. This first payment will be applied in the form of a credit on the electricity bill. After the first payment the customer will receive a microgen credit on each bill, reflecting the amount of electricity exported in that period.

“Where possible, as set out in CRU guidelines, a smart meter is required to avail of microgeneration payments. When a microgenerator such as solar PV is installed, the installer should have submitted an NC6 form on the customer’s behalf to ESB Networks.

“This form will inform us at Electric Ireland that the customer has a registered microgeneration device and ESB Networks will install a smart meter for a microgen customer who does not already have one.

“If, for technical reasons, a customer cannot have a smart meter installed in their home, they will receive estimated payments based on the size of their installed microgeneration device. This will be backdated to either 15 February 2022 or the time your microgeneration system was installed with the correct NC6 form submitted, whichever is the later of the two dates.”

How much? 14 cent per kilowatt hour

Bord Gáis

“Bord Gais Energy is shortly due to launch enrolment of customers onto its new Microgeneration Plan.

“The company already announced its unit rate which is amongst the top rates offered in the market and committed to back dating all of potential microgeneration customers to 15 February.

“Full details on rates can be viewed here with relevant payments to be made following successful enrolment of customers.”

How much? 18.5 cent per kilowatt hour

SSE Airtricity

An initial response from SSE Airtricity said there was “nothing further to add to the previous statement shared”.

This was in reference to a statement sent by SSE Airtricity to The Journal in August, which said: “As a company with green in our DNA, SSE Airtricity supports all customers on their journey to net zero. We began contacting customers who are set up for exporting microgeneration in July and expect payments to begin processing later this year. Registered, eligible customers are currently offered a rate of 14 cent per kWh generated.”

After a further request at this time, the company added: “SSE Airtricity has been contacting customers throughout the summer and customers will start receiving payments soon.”

How much? 14 cent per kilowatt hour

Pinergy

Pinergy said there were “no further significant developments to report since we were last in touch in relation to planned payment dates for customers on the Micro-generation Scheme”.

The August statement from Pinergy said that it “plans to make the first set of payments for electricity exported by these customers during 2022 in January 2023”.

In its latest statement, it also said that “Pinergy is now in the process of working through operational processes & details with its partners in the Scheme”.

“Once these operational processes are completed, Pinergy will then be in a position to announce further developments & plans for Pinergy’s MicroGen offers.”

How much? 13.5 cent per kilowatt hour

Panda Power

Panda Power said: “Micro gen payments will start to be paid this week. ESB had sent erroneous data which has delayed us from making payments. The data has been rectified and testing will take place tomorrow, payments to follow shortly after.”

In response to a query from The Journal, ESB Networks said: “Following receipt of a recent supplier query, ESB Networks made the decision to resend some of the data files to electricity suppliers.”

“The data files originally sent were accurate but not in the expected format in the retail market. ESB Networks engaged closely with electricity suppliers throughout this process and promptly completed reissuing of the data files in the expected format.”

FloGas

A spokesperson for Flo Gas said: “I understand that the CRU updated its guidance to allow payment be made before the end of the year and Flogas is still on track to have payment made by 31st October.”

How much? 20 cent per kilowatt hour, “guaranteed until March 2023”

Prepay Power

“We pay 14 cent per unit of Microgen. We are about to make payments to customers in the coming weeks. Customers can rest assured that payments will be backdated to the start of the scheme (15 February 2022). We are delighted to be in a position to pay our customers for this renewable electricity.”

How much? 14 cent per kilowatt hour

EcoPower

A spokesperson for EcoPower said it made payments to its microgenerator customers on 10 August 2022.

How much? 14 cent per kilowatt hour

Waterpower

“We have no customers in this space. No one exporting and no one on microgen.”

Arden Energy

No response

How much? 17.5 cent per kilowatt hour

Community Power

No response

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