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Biomas crisis looming in spite of REFIT

Details of the Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariffs (REFIT) will this week be published by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

Even so, things are not good in the biomass business.

The IFA's JJ Kavanagh maintains growers are so disillusioned with the sector that they are considering ploughing up their biomass crops.

Farmer concerns centre on the low level of returns from energy crops because of poor prices and yields.

These worries have obviously been exacerbated over the past two years by the improved margins available from cattle, sheep and cereals.

However, the fact remains that growing biomass crops will have to make financial sense or farmers won't commit land to it.

A desire to save the planet does not inform land use decisions on most Irish farms -- pounds, shillings and cents invariably win out.

Ireland has pulled its feet on the introduction of REFIT tariffs for biomass use as a renewable power source. Indeed, we were the last EU country to begin a REFIT scheme.

This is hardly surprising given that biomass accounts for less than 2pc of our total final energy consumption, compared to a EU average of 11.6pc.

Will things improve now that we have REFIT? Not likely.

Industry sources argue that the 9.5c/kWh tariff that was originally proposed for biomass crops is too low to encourage farmers to switch land away from more traditional uses.

Similarly, they point out that the 15c/kWh tariff for farm-based anaerobic digesters is almost half the 28c/kWh available in the North.

Those familiar with the sector point out that buying feed stock, maintenance and other costs associated with running an anaerobic digester will account for 13c of the 15c/kWh proposed under the Irish REFIT scheme.

With far stronger margins available in the North, significant investment in anaerobic digesters in the Republic is unlikely in the short term.

What is more likely is that maize, silage and sugar beet will be grown in the South to feed Northern digesters.

In order to comply with EU directives, Ireland must supply 16pc of its total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. It is predicted that a little less than half of this 16pc must come from biomass.

These targets are non-negotiable and offer an opportunity to develop indigenous supply chains that will provide jobs, support alternate land use, deliver greenhouse gas abatement and improve energy security. The alternative is to import the feed stocks to meet our biomass requirements. Not what you'd call an ideal solution.

Indo Farming