knowledge | 24 April 2020 |

COVID-19 and the Energy Sector

The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a dramatic effect on all sectors. While essential energy services continue to be supplied on an uninterrupted basis, the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled much energy project construction and development; and extended the closing date for applicants to qualify to take part in the first competition under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme. The paragraphs below give a short run-down on the impact COVID-19 has had on the energy sector to date.

Essential Energy Services are Exempted from the Temporary Restrictions on Movement

On 27 March 2020, the Taoiseach announced restrictions requiring everyone to stay at home with limited exceptions including “travel to and from work, or for purposes of work, only where the work is an essential health, social care or other essential service and cannot be done from home.” A List of Essential Service Providers followed, and the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 subsequently became operational on 8 April 2020. The temporary restrictions on movement are currently scheduled to conclude on 5 May 2020 but may be further extended.

These restrictions require everyone to refrain from leaving their place of residence without “reasonable excuse”. A number of actions qualify as providing “reasonable excuse” for departure from places of residence. These include the provision of a listed “essential service” relating to electricity, gas, water, sewage and waste management; the construction and development of critical utility infrastructure; and the provision of emergency electricity and gas maintenance and repair services to businesses and places of residence.

RESS-1:  Closing Date for Applications for Qualification Extended until 30 April 2020

The first competition under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (“RESS”) is open for applications, having commenced on 9 March 2020 (see our RESS briefing here). However, in light of the unprecedented challenges being experienced by RESS applicants as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the closing date for RESS-1 qualification applications was extended from Thursday 2 April 2020 to Thursday 30 April 2020. A revised auction timetable will be published on the EirGrid website (accessible here) no later than 30 April 2020. 

The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities publishes “COVID-19: Technical Questions and Answers for the Energy Markets” to reassure market participants

On 7 April 2020, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (the “CRU”) issued a “COVID-19: Technical Questions and Answers for the Energy Markets” publication in which it recorded 22 questions which had been asked by market participants and answered by the regulator on the impact of COVID-19 on the energy markets. The CRU reassured market participants that EirGrid and SEM-O had plans in place to maintain continuity of services during this COVID-19 event. The CRU publication is accessible here.

Planning Code Time-Frames are Frozen Affecting Project Development Timetables

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has made Orders freezing the time frames specified for certain statutory processes in planning and building control legislation. See our briefing here. The freeze will delay projects that need consent, including for turbine changes, system service infrastructure or grid. The freeze began on 29 March 2020 and is currently scheduled to conclude on 9 May 2020. It may be further extended up until 9 November 2020. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government published and updated a set of “Frequently Asked Questions” on how the changes affect the planning system. With offshore projects, the Department has signalled that it will apply the planning freeze to foreshore applications. It states “although [this] does not alter the statutory time frame for Foreshore participation periods, in the interest of providing for fair and equitable public consultation, the period has been extended in line with the terrestrial planning system to the 9th May 2020. The key measure is in relation to the extension of time for making public submissions on foreshore consent applications to reflect the Order of 29th March 2020.” (Link here).

Should you have any queries on how these COVID-19 related developments might impact upon your business please contact Valerie Lawlor, Brendan Slattery, Patricia Lawless or Eva Barrett.

This briefing is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.

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