€100 million fund called for to encourage farmer investment in renewable energy

Calls have been made for 20% of the energy levy paid by all homeowners, which would amount to approximately €100 million, to be ring-fenced to encourage homeowners and farmers to invest in renewable energy projects.

The Minister for Communication, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten, has been called upon to put this measure in place by the chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) Renewables Project Team, James Murphy.

Murphy believes that this fund could be used to develop a ‘prosumer’ strategy, which encourages homeowners and farmers to replace their fossil fuels with renewable sources.

Commenting on the matter, he said: “The current plan of exclusively using this public service obligation levy, as it is known, to support the construction of thousands of large-scale wind turbines across our natural landscape is no longer acceptable to rural communities.

It has also resulted in the transfer of millions of euros paid by Irish citizens to enrich multi-national energy companies.

Murphy explained that this money could be kept in rural Ireland if Minister Naughten looked to encourage and incentivise farmers and communities to undertake renewable energy products.

There is a need for clear change in the direction of Ireland’s energy policy, he added.

“In a recent submission to government, the IFA has called for 20% of the levy paid by all consumers – which is equivalent to €100 million – to be ring-fenced to support the development of farm-scale, roof-mounted and farmer-led community energy projects.”

The €100 million fund would be used directly in tariff format, Murphy said. Solar energy projects and farm-scale turbines, along with various other sources of renewable energy, would be encouraged under the initiative.

The IFA submission has also called for measures including:
  • A generation feed-in tariff of 17c/kWh, guaranteed for 20 years and linked to Consumer Price Index (CPI) for farm-scale and micro-energy projects;
  • A 2.5c/kWh premium for renewable projects that include community participation;
  • Grid connection and planning preference for community renewable projects.

Murphy admitted that the creation of various small-scale projects across the country would present a challenge for the ESB to connect them into the grid – but he was adamant that it could be achieved.

He also believed that the government could incentivise the uptake in small-scale renewable energy projects further, by waiving some planning requirements for example.

Farmer participation

Speaking to AgriLand, Murphy said: “Some of the technology is becoming far more affordable. Some of the projects are daunting; but it can be done.

Farmers need to be at the helm in creating renewable energy. We know that farmers have an appetite for it. There is no doubt that Irish farmers are up to the challenge.

“It would be a mistake for Minister Naughten not to include micro-generation in the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS). There is a clear potential there. It will cost money; but anything we have done so far has cost money.”

The IFA chairman indicated that farmers whose incomes have suffered in recent years, such as drystock farmers, could be approached to take part in the initiative. Any surplus energy the farm-scale project could produce would be delivered back into the national grid.

Meanwhile, the community involvement aspect of micro-generation projects could also help to educate communities about the targets Ireland has to meet and the challenges that lie ahead, Murphy said.

He added: “Society and government have an obligation to use their best endeavours to address the environmental and renewable obligations, in a fair and balanced way.

“The development of a prosumer strategy – as proposed by the IFA – places the citizen at the centre of future energy needs by making it possible for them to displace fossil fuel use and become sustainable renewable energy producers.”

Fossil fuels and renewable energy

In response to a recent parliamentary question from Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan, Minister Naughten detailed the need for renewable energy and provided an update on RESS.

He said: “The Programme for Government sets out that Ireland’s long-term interests are best supported by further decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels through the continued development of renewable electricity generation.

“As energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are inextricably linked, meeting this objective will require a radical transformation of Ireland’s energy system from being predominantly fossil-fuel based to a clean, low-carbon energy system.”

RESS will be designed to assist Ireland in meeting its renewable energy contribution to EU-wide targets out to 2030, the minister said.

“A public consultation on the emerging principles of the proposed RESS closed on November 10. Over 1,250 submissions were received and these will now be reviewed and considered and will inform the final design of the RESS.

Following on from this public consultation and review, a final proposal will be brought to government for approval in early 2018 – including the overall costs and technologies to be supported.

“At this point, no final decisions have been made as regards which technologies will be supported under the new RESS. I welcome and have noted with interest the falling costs of some renewable technologies over the past year, most notably Solar PV and offshore wind.

“Increasing renewable technology diversity is one of several policy objectives the new RESS is trying to deliver and falling technology costs may lead to increased diversity of the renewable portfolio over the medium term,” Minister Naughten said.