Farmers to be offered 20 year contracts to grow energy crops
ENVIRONMENT Minister Denis Naughten said the Renewable Heat Incentive may have a “dirty” name after the ‘cash for ash’ debacle in Northern Ireland but the scheme could offer major opportunities for farmers in marginal areas.
Mr Naughten said the final details are being firmed up ahead of the Budget but they would press ahead with an RHI scheme to encourage industry and businesses to move towards greener technologies.
“It is also important that we don’t repeat some of the mistakes that we have had in other jurisdictions,” said the minister, referring to the costly ‘loophole’ that saw users earn more cash the more fuel they burned in Northern Ireland.
“It is important from the public point of view, from a political point of view that this is a scheme that we can stand over as well,” he stressed with the financial incentives due to be signed off on ahead of the Budget.
“There is even a debate on whether you should change the name of it from RHI because it is a dirty word in some other places.”
However, the minister stressed it was going to set a benchmark to stimulate the industry, with the initial focus on biomass and anaerobic digestion.
Mr Naughten pointed out that businesses and foreign direct investment were now looking at the country’s energy security in light of Brexit, as well as the climate change advantages with greener technology.
“As a country we are dependent on imports and over 80pc of our imports come through the UK. We are spending about a half a million euro every single hour on high emission fossil fuels — €4.6bn a year.”
The minister was speaking as Bord na Móna launched a new Bioenergy business marking a step away from its traditional peat business towards renewable energy generation and supply.
Patrick Madigan, head of Bord na Móna Bioenergy, said after 80 years of bog operations it was a “massive step change”.
Amid concerns over the future of jobs with Bord na Móna’s promise to exit peat energy generation by 2030, he said the bioenergy initiative was labour intensive and would provide employment for some but not all of those workers.
He said they will be supplying 1.5 million tonnes of sustainable biomass material per annum to customers including other power generators and large energy consumers.
“We are actively looking to develop indigenous supplies from private forestry and are also encouraging Irish farmers to consider energy crops as a secure income source. Government has been and will be critically important to underpinning development of this domestic supply,” he said, with some trials of eucalyptus underway for biomass.
Mr Madigan said if its trials of biomass crops are successful Bord na Móna will plant “vast quantities” of its land. The firm will mainly be using agricrops, principally willow, forestry by-products including thinnings, brash, pulpwood as the main sources of biomass material.
Mr Madigan said they would be offering guaranteed long-term contracts of 15 or 20 years to farmers.
Mr Naughten said there was an opportunity for tillage farmers in the west to turn to alternative biomass crops with long-term contracts given the impact of recent weather on their usual crops.
He said Bord na Móna wanted to ensure as much of the biomass as possible was grown locally, particularly around the Bord na Móna powerstations in Lanesboro and Shannonbridge.
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