New grant scheme to grow willow as an energy crop on the way?

It is believed that Bord na Mona is working with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to set up a new grant scheme to promote the growing of willow as an energy crop on Irish farms.

The news comes amidst an ongoing drive, by Bord na Mona, to increase the supply of Irish-grown biomass. Earlier this morning, AgriLand reported that plans are afoot for all three midlands power stations to burn biomass by 2020 – in a co-fuelling strategy.

Also Read: All 3 midlands power stations to burn biomass by 2020

The company’s own power station at Edenderry is currently co-fuelled with both peat and biomass. The two ESB power stations in the midlands (Lough Ree and West Offaly Power) still exclusively use peat as a fuel. It is believed that plans are in the pipeline, whereby both of these power stations will transition in 2020 to co-fuelling with both peat and biomass.

Bord na Mona has apparently conducted an assessment of its future sourcing and supply of peat and “sustainable biomass” for the three power stations.

As part of the assessment, the company is believed to have carried out “technical and commercial reviews of all its current and future biomass supplies”. Following the reviews, it is believed that the company has decided that it will not proceed with a proposal to directly develop a US-based biomass pellet plant.

Bord na Mona will, instead, proceed with “a broadly-based biomass supply chain – with a clear preference for Irish supplies”.

The company does, however, intend for other overseas supplies to supplement Irish supplies in “the short-to-medium term”.

In any case, there is a drive to develop a “sustainable” Irish supply chain for energy crops – which has prompted the ongoing work on a grant scheme to promote the growing of willow. Of course, planting grants for energy crops were brought into being many years ago; limited and erratic demand for the resultant produce meant that enthusiasm for growing such crops (on the part of farmers) quickly dissipated.

It should be noted that some of these growers ultimately lost money on these endeavours – at that time.

Farmers and land-owners will exercise caution this time around – to ensure that there is actually a sustainable market for such crops, be it from Bord na Mona or elsewhere.

Biomass is not just about these so-called ‘energy crops’; also bolstering the prospects for a sustainable (Irish) biomass supply chain is the recent Government decision (February 20) to adopt certain proposals from its own forestry programme review.

The proposals include improvements in grant and premium rates for broad-leaf species – allowing farmers to plant trees while continuing to graze animals on the same land.