Ireland could substitute €60m worth of imported oil by utilising excess straw as a renewable energy source, IFA presidential candidate Joe Healy has insisted.

The Galway farmer said that we are importing around €60m worth of oil, while fuel of the same value is lying unused in farmers’ sheds.

Healy said that over 10 power stations in Britain used straw as their primary fuel source.

“The adoption of this technology in Ireland has the potential to transform the financial dynamics of the tillage sector, while enabling the country to meet stringent renewable energy targets.

“Under EU rules Ireland has to reduce its fossil fuel usage by 16% in the areas of transport, heat and electricity by 2020.”

At the moment we are unlikely to meet this target and could be facing a fine of between €300m and €450m from Brussels as a consequence.

Healy said the imposition of such a fine would be ludicrous given that there is a ready fuel supply available from 1.3m tonnes of straw produced in the country each year and the existing technology to convert this into a power source.

“We have an internal market for around a 1m tonnes of straw but that leaves 300,000t lying in sheds around the country.

“A 4×4 round bale of straw has the same energy value as 66L of imported kerosene.

“At today’s reduced oil prices this equates to a value of around €30/bale. However, bales are selling for just €7-8/bale.”

Healy said that a 15mW power plant proposed for the midlands could take up to 100,000t of straw, but there was potential to use far more if the next Government was willing to adopt an innovative approach on our energy needs.

“Using straw-powered plants makes sense at a number of levels. It reduces the country’s carbon emissions, replaces oil imports and uses a native fuel source.

“Taking this policy on board could also change the economics of the tillage sector and provide a valuable outlet for straw for struggling cereal growers.”