A SURGE in solar farm development has been given the green light after 66 projects were approved to supply power to the electricity grid.
They are among the 80 applicants selected from 130 projects that applied for contracts in the framework of the last auction of the Renewable Electricity Support Regime (RESS).
RESS gives them a guaranteed price for electricity for up to 16 years, giving backers the financial incentive to build.
Solar power dominated the process, with onshore wind farms comprising just 14 of the approved projects.
The selected projects have been provisionally approved by Eigrid pending formal acceptance by the Government in the coming weeks.
Not everyone is expected to proceed as investment decisions may change, but everyone has planning permission secured.
If all were completed, they would create a combined capacity to produce 1,534 megawatts (MW) of solar electricity and 414 MW of wind power, a 20% increase in currently available renewable generation capacity.
Conall Bolger, chief executive of the Irish Solar Energy Association, described the results of solar power as “transformational”.
So far there is only one solar farm in the republic supplying the national grid, the Millvale project which opened last month in Co Wicklow.
“Ireland has tremendous potential to deliver a significant amount of solar power as evidenced by the volumes being settled at this auction,” Bolger said.
“If this RESS 2 capacity is delivered, it would deliver enough electricity to power the equivalent of over 350,000 Irish homes.”
Climate Action Minister Eamon Ryan said the approvals would build on Ireland’s strong wind base and diversify electricity supply through solar.
“Renewable energy delivered under the scheme will protect consumers from high prices and reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels in the context of the phasing out of Russian energy imports across the EU,” he said.
The 66 provisionally approved solar projects are distributed mainly in the east, southeast, south and midlands, but there are also some in the west.
The 14 new wind farms are located in the central, western and southwestern regions.
Noel Cunniffe, chief executive of Wind Energy Ireland, welcomed the results, but warned that the power grid needed urgent reinforcement to enable it to transport power from new and diverse generation sources.
“The weaker the grid, the more power is lost, forcing projects to charge more for the power they can produce,” he said.