Rural Ireland to fuel and power energy transition
Wood mobilisation, the sustainable harvesting and supply of timber from the forest to processors and end users, has been identified as one of most significant challenges which need to be addressed if Ireland is to close its looming EU 2020 renewable energy target gap. Engaging farmers and landowners from around the country, wood and biomass mobilisation were some of the key topics addressed at the Energy in Agriculture event held in County Tipperary earlier this week.
Jointly organised by Teagasc, Tipperary Energy Agency, Gurteen Agricultural College, Tipperary County Council and the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), the one-day Energy in Agriculture 2017 event held August 22 attracted around 2 500 people. The purpose of the free to attend day was to highlight opportunities for farmers with regards to renewable energy and how they can adopt a sustainable approach to their farming processes.
Hosted at Gurteen Agricultural College in Ballingarry, Roscrea it was sponsored by Gas Networks Ireland, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), Bord na Móna and the Tipperary Local Enterprise Board.
Speaking at the event Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten TD said that there are “huge opportunities” out there in the energy sector for farmers and landowners. He said that proposals for a Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme will be brought to the Government in September.
He also said that he was “determined” to make sure the RHI benefits local farmers. The Minister expects to be making a series of announcements “between now and the National Ploughing Championships” which take place in mid-September.
Irish farms and rural communities will be making a significant contribution to a resilient, low-carbon energy system. Despite many pioneering efforts in the past the potential of agricultural energy systems really remains largely untapped. The income provided by energy production will increase the resilience of Irish farmers. It will also provide multiple co-benefits, from increasingly rare manufacturing jobs in Ireland to carbon savings and slurry management. We need to find better ways to recognise and reward to non-energy benefits of farm scale energy systems, said Barry Caslin Teagasc Energy Specialist during a panel discussion following the official opening.
Estimates by Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) show that current policies will not deliver 12 percent renewable energy in the heat sector by 2020, indicating that additional action is required. The estimated shortfall will be in the region of 2 to 4 percentage points of the 12 percent, equating to about 200 ktoe or 2.3TWh.
BnM to offer 15-year contracts
The growth of a Renewable Heat sector would help the biomass supply chain to mature and stimulate regional demand for forest thinnings, energy crops and other sources of biomass. Mike Quinn, CEO of Bord na Móna (BnM), the country’s largest renewable power generator and largest consumer and supplier of biomass, alluded to the company’s recently announced EUR 1.2 billion investment plan which includes developing domestic and international biomass supply chains as it phases out peat at its Edenderry power station.
In addition, BnM is working on a project together with the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) to retrofit two ESB peat-fired power stations to biomass co-firing. According to Quinn, a “key step in this transformation is the formation of BnM BioEnergy, a new division of BnM” and that the company is prepared to offer 15-year contracts for project developers supplying biomass.
Farm-based energy provides an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between farmers and their communities through mechanisms such as shared ownership and jointly-constructed community energy plans. We need to break down the barriers that are stifling investment in sustainable farm based energy and develop a supportive regulatory, planning and financial environment, said County Kilkenny farmer James Murphy from IFA.
A recent study also by SEAI suggests that biogas and biomethane from animal manure, food waste and grass could provide up to 28 percent of Ireland’s gas needs by 2050. Herein ought to lie some of the “relationship strengthening opportunities” for Irish farmers.
The full extent of climate change and our obligations are now becoming a reality for policy makers in Ireland. Rural areas will fuel and power the energy transition from imported fossil fuels to sustainable electricity and bio based energy systems. Farmers need to ensure they are up to speed on the potential for growth in this area, remarked Paul Kenny, CEO, Tipperary Energy Agency.