The Government's recent announcement that the Renewables Obligation regime will be closed to onshore wind projects on 1st April 2016, one year ahead of schedule, as part of the Energy Bill has sparked an outcry in the renewables industry which has branded the closure as"retrospective" and"punitive". Confidence and investment in the sector has been hampered and there is uncertainty about availability of grace periods.
The Government has asked for feedback from industry by 20th July but has announced its intention to limit availability of a grace period to projects that had planning consent and a grid connection offer and acceptance plus land rights by 18th June. For projects that await a planning decision or grid offer the future is unclear though, in respect of the former, some glimmer of comfort may be had from the Government's particular invitation of comment from developers with projects in the planning system but which have not yet obtained consent.
Community Energy Scotland, a membership organisation and social enterprise aimed at encouraging fairer and more affordable local energy systems within Scotland has added its voice to these criticism, claiming that community developers will be hit particularly hard north of the border.
According to the organisation, community developers face longer development timelines than commercial developers and cannot spread risk over a wide project portfolio. They also tend to have fewer resources of time and manpower. They have the 'least capacity to staff up and try to meet the shorter deadline.' Community Energy Scotland gives specific examples of this quoting Mark Brennan, Development Coordinator at Melness & Tongue Community Development Trust as saying"the early closure of the RO is a disaster for us. We could achieve ROCs accreditation by April 2017 but not April 2016."
The organisation has called for 'recognition of the additional challenges which community energy developers face' and 'a longer grace period – up to April 2018' to reflect community developers' needs.
It will be interesting to see what impact (if any) this statement will have on the Government's position given it is also its policy to encourage community decision making and increase the number of community renewable energy projects.