COVID-19: Implications for 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 were 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 were scheduled to conclude on 5 May 2020 but were further extended, and then revoked on 8 June 2020.

RESS-1:  Closing date for applications for qualification was extended

The first competition under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (“RESS”) opened 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 was published on the EirGrid website (accessible here). 

The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities published “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 were frozen affecting project development timetables

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government made Orders freezing the time frames specified for certain statutory processes in planning and building control legislation. See our briefing here. The 56 day planning freeze delayed projects that needed consent, including for turbine changes, system service infrastructure or grid. The freeze began on Sunday, 29 March 2020 and concluded on Saturday 23 May 2020. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government published an updated a set of “Frequently Asked Questions” on how the changes affected the planning system. With offshore projects, the Department signalled that it would also apply the planning freeze to foreshore applications. It stated “Although [this] did not alter the statutory time frame for Foreshore participation periods, in the interest of providing for fair and equitable public consultation, the period was extended in line with the terrestrial planning system to the 23rd May 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 document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP 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.