Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

Investing in green power 'can create 120,000 new jobs'

Dr John Finnan, of Teagasc; environmentalist Duncan Stewart; Tom Bruton, president of the Irish Bioenergy Association; and John Gilliland, at the bioenergy conference
Dr John Finnan, of Teagasc; environmentalist Duncan Stewart; Tom Bruton, president of the Irish Bioenergy Association; and John Gilliland, at the bioenergy conference
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

Huge opportunities in bioenergy are being hampered by bad government the Teagasc National Bioenergy Conference was told last week.

Speaker after speaker at the gathering in Tullamore blamed poor policy making, disjointed Government thinking and fragmented departmental responsibility for crippling the development of the sector and preventing it from playing a key role in the fight against climate change, addressing the energy needs and responding to the jobs crisis.

Chairing one of the earlier sessions of the conference, environmentalist and broadcaster Duncan Stewart, told the audience that Ireland spends €6.5bn a year on imported fossil fuels, oil gas and coal.

According to research Mr Stewart has undertaken for a new TV series, if Ireland were to reinvest those billions into alternative energy sources it could lead to the creation of 120,000 jobs.

"This is not a ball-park theory," explained Mr Stewart. "In the TV programme we will show sector-by-sector where this can be done."

Tom Bruton, of the Irish Bioenergy Association, said there were 26 bioenergy projects representing an investment of €200m with the potential to create 250 full-time jobs waiting for the go-ahead to generate electricity from biomass.

However, the failure of the Government to convince the EU commission that a 2pc biomass tariff on electricity is not state aid has left the whole biomass industry in limbo.

This tariff would facilitate a Public Service Obligation (PSO) to deliver electricity generated by biomass and is the core element of a scheme known as the Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff (REFIT III) scheme.

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Application of the scheme would guarantee a market for the bioenergy crops being grown by farmers, which in turn would encourage banks and lending agencies to give credit to operators in the biomass/bioenergy sector.

However, the scheme is the subject of protracted negotiations between Dublin and Brussels

The Government's performance in relation to progressing this REFIT scheme at EU level was strongly criticised.

Indeed, the failure of Minister of Energy, Communication and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, to feature at the conference was a subject of much adverse comment.

Alan Fox, of HDS Energy, Kells, told the meeting his plans to build a €4.5m, 15MW electricity generation plant was going nowhere without REFIT. He was not at all happy that Mr Rabbitte failed to attend the conference and explain the delays in delivering REFIT.

"I want to tell the minister that this Fox is on the tail of that Rabbitte," he said.

Former president of the Ulster Farmers Union and energy entrepreneur John Gilliland also attacked the failure of public policy with regard to the renewable energy sector and the absence of joined-up thinking.

He claimed that even if energy generation projects got through all the technological and funding hoops, they could come a cropper with the planning authorities.

"It is one thing to create a policy, it is another thing to implement it. If we don't have a cross-agency, collective approach to renewable energy that includes proactive public procurement policy, and community buy-in, we are going nowhere. For instance, with its huge animal population, Ireland is an ideal location for energy driven by anaerobic digestion (AD), yet problems with planning permission are going to kill it," Mr Gilliland said.

"If we don't have joined-up thinking then, as an innovator, I'm packing my bags and accepting that I have wasted the last 20 years of my life."

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