‘Enormous’ renewable energy potential ‘would provide’ extra farmer income

The long-awaited action report on climate change, compiled by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, has noted that there is “enormous potential” for the agricultural sector to become a net producer of renewable electricity once certain barriers are overcome.

Such measures would provide an additional income stream for farmers, the report highlights.

The document, which was published yesterday (Thursday, March 28) after a series of delays, was adopted by majority vote by the committee with all but Sinn Féin and Solidarity People before Profit committee members backing the publication.

The report highlights that the agri industry can become a net producer of electricity such as solar power once barriers on grid access and tariffs are overcome.

This ties in with calls the committee is making for the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment in conjunction with the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, Water and Energy (CRU) to review the electricity market rules to enable micro-generated electricity to be sold to the grid.

The CRU should accelerate the national roll-out of the smart metering programme to enable this and remove the barriers to grid connection that will be faced by microgeneration (i.e. approximately 11-100 kw) and community led renewable generation projects (i.e. approximately 500kw-5MW), according to the rapporteurs.

Anaerobic Digestion

Highlighting anaerobic digestion (AD) as an under-developed practice in Ireland, the report calls on the Government to commission a feasibility assessment for the development of biogas as an indigenous source for on-demand electricity power, for use as a transport fuel and as a source for heating supply.

The committee recommends the establishment of AD/biogas co-operatives, along with the facilitation of installations with low-interest loans or grants.

It also puts forward the suggestion that the Department of Agriculture should consider purchasing digestors in bulk and passing discounts on to co-ops.

It calls on the Standing Committee on Climate Action to pursue the further development of AD, welcoming the recent announcement of further funding through the Climate Action Fund.

Biomass

Regarding biomass production, the committee calls for funding for farmers in diversifying land use through Government policies and schemes.

The Climate Action Council should be invited to develop comprehensive sustainability criteria for biomass production no later than end of 2020, according to the report.

The committee also advises on setting a cap to limit the use of biomass for energy production to levels that can be sustainably supplied so that investments in both the technology and the biomass production are low-risk.

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