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Solar Panels

Cumbersome grant system holding some back from solar PV uptake, says expert

The chair of the Micro-Renewable Energy Federation likened the experience of securing a grant to a “bureaucratic nightmare”.

CHALLENGES NAVIGATING THE system to avail of grants for solar panels are holding back some businesses and farmers from applying, according to an industry insider.

The government has introduced new grants, planning exemptions and other supports in recent years to encourage households, farms, businesses and community venues to install solar panels that will allow them to generate their own renewable power.

However, many prospective solar-switchers are held back by uncertainty over how to navigate the web of supports, said Pat Smith, chair of the Micro-Renewable Energy Federation.

Speaking to The Journal, Smith described the experience of trying to secure a grant for some as a “bureaucratic nightmare”.

He said Ireland needs “an easy, accessible grant support system that empowers people to make positive decisions about adopting renewables now rather than at some point in the future”.

“They keep telling us that there’s an emergency out there – well it’s definitely not in the Department [of Environment],” he said.

“They’re very slow at moving stuff on and that’s an immediate issue that they need to clarify with the business community and farming community what supports are available and make them immediately available.”

He said a “lack of clarity on what supports are available is creating paralysis in decision-making”.

“They need to declutter what’s going on because the grants that people tried to get last year, they’ve been a bureaucratic nightmare.”

Significantly expanding the proportion of energy generated in Ireland from renewable sources is a key ambition under climate plans to reduce dependency on damaging fossil fuels.

Much of this energy will be produced through commercial wind and solar farms but smaller-scale generation on a local and individual level is also expected to play a role.

There are a range of different supports and grants available through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) – though for some, the cost is still prohibitive.

In October, the government introduced new planning exemptions for rooftop solar installations aimed at simplifying the process on buildings used for housing – including apartments – , industry, business and agriculture, as well as community spaces like hospitals, libraries, and places of worship.

Smith said that the change “definitely has removed an inhibitor to people progressing with solar PV”.

However, it came much later than intended. The timeframe laid down by the Climate Action Plan indicated the legislation would be in place in the first half of the year

Meanwhile, a scheme to pay small-scale energy generators for excess energy they export back to the grid, known as the Microgeneration Support Scheme, suffered serious teething problems last year.

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

Both the Department of the Environment and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) stated customers could expect to receive their first payment by 31 August at the latest, which would be backdated to February where applicable.

Despite those assurances, the majority of energy suppliers did not commence payments in July or August. Only one could confirm to The Journal in September that it had started payments by the end of August.

Some energy providers have begun to issue payments, though others still have not.

The latest information provided by Electric Ireland to customers on its website is that payments be made on the next scheduled bill after 2 December, which for most customers would be in January or February 2023.

Bord Gáis intends to make a single payment once a year once a microgenerator has been exporting excess energy for a full twelve months, with payments starting from March 2023.

Energia says it has “developed payment arrangements for customers with microgeneration and are working hard to deliver these payments”.

The transition from fossil fuel dependency to renewable sources like solar and wind is part of Ireland’s wider national plans to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and help to prevent global temperatures from further rising. If left unchecked, the climate crisis carries the threat of severe and widespread destruction around the world.

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