By Niall Claffey
28th October 2017
“We are potentially looking at a €600 million/year fine for missing the 2020 targets – where’s the urgency?”
This was the headline message from the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) renewable energy chairman, James Murphy, when he addressed a healthy crowd at the Energy Now Expo 2017 in Cillin Hill, Co. Kilkenny, on Wednesday (October 25).
Murphy outlined what has happened in other countries, including the UK.
“Its government took the decision to incentivise in order to establish a vibrant and meaningful renewable energy sector within the country.
Ireland needs to do the same. The Irish farmers are looking for viable and realistic alternative land uses and the more information that can be got out to farmers the better.
The renewable energy chairman commented on the development of the sector in Ireland.
“Where incentives have been put in place and where there has been progress on the renewable energy side, there has been real interest – farmers are keen to get involved.
There are thousands of acres of Irish farmland on some sort of solar contract. This is conclusive proof that there is real interest at farm level – but we’ve waited and waited and we’re still waiting.
A clear message from the conference was that farmers need to be encouraged and incentivised, by the government, to become producers and consumers of their own renewable heat and electricity. The surplus energy could then be fed into the national grid.
An incentive was launched a number of years ago for farmers to plant energy crops and there was strong uptake.
Unfortunately, the farmers who did plant and establish those energy crops “got burnt” and, as a result, they are quite disillusioned.
According to Murphy, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) needs to be fast-tracked and opened in the first quarter of 2018. There is also a lot of developer interest in Ireland right now in terms of solar, renewable heat and anaerobic digestion.
The message is fairly stark and fairly clear. Ireland is falling way behind the rest of Europe. The Irish farmers are falling behind their counterparts. There is a real appetite – farmers want to engage.
“The one thing we need is urgency. I would have hoped to see the RHI opened in the first quarter of this year, but we are now at the end of 2017 and it’s disappointing.”
He also touched on the importance for communities to get involved in renewable energy in this country.
“We’ve seen the downside to farmers being left ‘dumped’ between themselves and their communities over wind projects.
In relation to politicians, I’m shocked as to how little they know about renewable energy – and they don’t seem to care about learning.
“We have €7 million earmarked for the RHI next year – that would be a drop in the ocean. There would want to be a zero behind the seven,” he concluded.