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Independent view: State help will aid renewable energy sector

A co-ordinated approach to the planning and development of the bioenergy sector is vital to the future viability of the industry and for Ireland to realise its climate change obligations.

As it stands, four Government departments -- Agriculture, Environment, Transport, and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources -- have some involvement in the sector.

However, instead of this sign-posting the importance of the sector, the involvement of the four different departments has led to disjointed and fragmented policy initiatives, the conference was told.

Under binding agreements, Ireland has to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20pc by 2020 and produce 16pc of our energy needs from renewable sources by the same date.

If the country is to get anywhere near meeting these targets then usage of energy crops will have to increase.

Speaking at the conference, Shane McEntee, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, pointed to the generous grants that farmers can now avail of to grow miscanthus and willow.

Unfortunately, unless a real market is created for these crops, it will be increasingly difficult to convince farmers to commit to growing them.

Using renewable crops to produce electricity is potentially the biggest market but Ireland will need a Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariff (REFIT) scheme to make this viable.

Delays in getting such a REFIT scheme past the EU Commission were criticised at the conference, with Tom Bruton, of the Irish Bioenergy Association, claiming that 26 projects, with a total investment of €200m, and the potential to create 250 full-time jobs, are being put on hold as a consequence.

Brussels aside, it is within the power of the Government to create a domestic outlet for energy crops.

Former Ulster farm leader and willow grower John Gilliland said the Government should immediately commit to heating public buildings from renewable sources.

He claimed €600m is spent on heating public buildings with imported fossil fuels and that converting to using Irish energy crops could save €200m and create a massive internal market.

The renewable energy sector needs Government assistance; it is not guaranteed to survive. But a unified approach is urgently needed if the industry is to realise its potential.

Germany has a planned approach to renewable energy that works. Bruce Lett's report (pages 16 and 17) shows what's possible.

We should follow suit.

Indo Farming