'Lessons have been learned from Cash for Ash' - Energy chief on new biomass scheme for farmers

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Lessons have been learned from mistakes made in Northern Ireland’s ‘Cash for Ash’ programme in the designing of the new Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH) , CEO of Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) Sean Finan has said.

The second phase of the SSRH opened yesterday which will provide operational support for biomass boilers and anaerobic digestion heating systems.

The delay in opening the scheme was largely attributed to the Government wanting to avoid the failings of the Renewable Heat Incentive better known as the controversial ‘Cash for Ash’ scheme in Northern Ireland which failed because there was no limit on usage and subsidies were too high.

In one case a farmer in Northern Ireland could make £1 million over the 20-year term of the scheme for heating an empty shed under the Renewable Heat Incentive.

IrBEA CEO Sean Finan said the new scheme was totally different to schemes established in other jurisdictions and would be of value for money for the taxpayer.

“With this scheme there is no incentive to produce extra heat. It also covers very specific things. It is for non domestic operations. People have to demonstrate their eligibility for the scheme and can’t just produce heat for the sake of it,” he said.

“Lessons have been learned from schemes in other regions that may not have worked out.”

He added that project budget caps, an annual budget cap for the scheme, annual reviews of the tariffs offered to new applicants and periodic tariff reviews to prevent windfall gains made it different from schemes like the ‘Cash for Ash’.

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Mr Finan said the grant aid would be of particular benefit to poultry farmers and those in the horticulture sector heat who generate a lot of heat. He said these farmers may be able to reduce their fossil fuel bill by half in some cases.

“For a 320 KW biomass system that costs €240,000 to install, farmers would receive €40,000 in support and save €31,000 using woodchips. So that’s a saving of €70,000 with a payback period of 3.4 years.

“There’s incredible cost savings that we believe are worth the time and effort and we believe that there will be significant uptake.”

With Ireland set to miss its renewable heat targets for 2020, Mr Finan said it’s important the scheme is driven forward as farmers have waited a long time for this scheme to be implemented.

He added that education of farmers around biomass and increasing fuel supply for woodchip would be a challenge all stakeholders would have to face together.

“Biomass isn’t mainstream here, so awareness will have to be built on hugely. This is something ourselves, Teagasc, farm organisations, the Department and the Sustainable Energy Authority will have to work on,” he said.

“Mobilising foresters to supply the fuel stock will also be a challenge as a lot of private forests in Ireland are small and fragmented.”

Mr Finan said IrBEA plans to hold a public meeting in the coming weeks on the new scheme.

Full details of the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat including the tariff levels, terms and conditions and how to apply are available on SEAI’s website.

. This round of the Scheme will support businesses and farms for up to 15 years for the installation and on-going use of biomass and anaerobic digestion heating systems. The Scheme is designed to support up to 1,300 GWh of renewable heat per year (equivalent to the heating needs of circa 120,000 homes).

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