Ireland has launched the first round of its new renewable power auction process, with nearly 1 gigawatt of capacity available for onshore wind if it proves to be the lowest-cost option.
The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) will look to support 12,000 gigawatt-hours of generation through four separate rounds. Onshore and offshore wind will compete with biomass, while solar bids will compete separately with 10 percent of the quota for RESS 1 carved out for a parallel solar tender.
The equivalent of 333 megawatts of solar capacity will be available as the government looks to diversify the country's wind-heavy contribution from renewables. Despite being eligible, offshore wind is expected to take a back seat for the first round but will receive its own ring-fenced capacity in the RESS 2 auction in 2021.
The government had previously planned to begin with a smaller round of 1,000 gigawatt-hours with a very tight connection deadline of end-2020, intended as a late boost to Ireland’s 2020 climate targets. It is lagging behind on both its greenhouse gas emissions reductions and its share of renewables in its power mix. 
But energy minister Richard Bruton on Monday launched a larger opening round of 3,000 gigawatt-hours to be grid-connected by 2022.
A spokesperson for Ireland's Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment told GTM the increase was in line with the country's step up to a 70 percent renewable energy target for 2030. 
"Design and any technology categories for future rounds have yet to be determined. However, under the Climate Action Plan, the government has committed to an offshore category for the second auction," the spokesperson said. "Future auction rounds will deliver a major up-scaling in offshore wind capacity with at least 3.5 gigawatts by the end of 2030."

"Mostly onshore wind" in first round

Based on the figures used in the government’s own design documents, if onshore wind were to claim all the available support in this round, 960 megawatts of capacity would be supported. 
Justin Moran, head of communications and public affairs at the Irish Wind Energy Association, said ongoing efforts on grid connections for offshore wind means that developers will likely skip the first auction. The RESS 2 round, to be held in 2021, would be the earliest the sector would target, he said. That would leave biomass and onshore wind with a clear run in the first round.
“RESS 1 is likely to be mostly onshore wind with potentially some solar and community-led projects,” Moran told GTM.
“In terms of delivering the 3,000 gigawatt-hours, we’d be confident we have the onshore pipeline to deliver," Moran said. "With [the previous support regime] closed to new entrants for a few years now, there has been a build-up of demand in the pipeline, so we do think we’ll be able to meet the demand expected in RESS 1."
The structure of the RESS program bears some resemblance to the U.K.’s contract for difference with winning projects awarded a guaranteed strike price for their power. Support will be offered for at least 14 years and a maximum of 16.5 years, depending on the connection date.
Prequalifying will take place in March next year with the auction held in June. The process must also be approved as compliant with the EU’s state aid rules. That decision is expected in February 2020.
There are a number of consented offshore wind projects in Irish waters but the RESS 1 connection deadline of 2022 would likely have come too soon anyway.
There are almost 4 gigawatts of offshore projects with or awaiting consent. SSE Renewables has a lease for a minimum of 520 megawatts. Innogy/RWE is developing a 1-gigawatt site in Dublin Bay, and Belgium’s Parkwind has a 330-megawatt site with a previously stated connection date of 2023.
Generator and network operator ESB declined to comment on its own plans. The firm recently signed a partnership agreement on offshore wind with Norwegian oil company and floating wind pioneer Equinor.
“ESB welcomes this morning’s RESS announcement and will take time to assess the new program. We have previously stated our full commitment to playing our part on the 70 percent target of electricity from renewable sources by 2030,” it said in a statement to GTM.