The Micro-Renewable Energy Federation (MREF) has urged the new Fine Gael agricultural group to seize the opportunity presented by renewable energy for farming.

Former president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Eddie Downey has been chosen to head the party’s new National Agricultural, Food and Rural Development Forum which recently held its inaugural meeting.

MREF welcomed a commitment given by the forum to prioritise a support scheme for farmers who want to invest in renewable energy and develop an additional income stream.

The position was supported by Tánaiste and party leader Leo Varadkar.

MREF chair Pat Smith told the forum of the “tremendous” potential for farmers to invest in renewable technologies.

However, he said that this potential was being “frustrated” at every turn by delays and uncertainties surrounding the public policy changes and supports that farmers need to invest in renewable power.

“It has become an embarrassing fiasco that changes to the planning code which would exempt solar energy installations on the roofs of farming buildings and commercial premises have taken four years and we still do not know when these critical changes will happen,” Smith said.

He appealed to Minister of State with responsibility for planning Peter Burke to ensure that the necessary legislation is finalised and enacted before the Dáil summer recess.

Pat Smith, chair of MREF
Pat Smith, chair of MREF

Smith also claimed that grant support of €2,400 for solar PV installations, promised by Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan to small businesses and farmers, will not be of any benefit due to unworkable and unfair restrictions.

“These modest grant supports have been smothered in red tape and unrealistic demands on grant applicants.

“Unless this situation is immediately addressed, farmers and small businesses will conclude that government is not serious and only paying lip service to Ireland’s climate action targets and the need to switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy,” he said.

“If the money has run out – or wasn’t there from the start – for grant supports for renewable energy projects, then the minister and government should come clean and say it rather than promising grant supports and then killing the scheme with restrictions and bureaucracy.

“If we are truly serious about renewable power and our climate action ambitions, then there is no more time for delays and uncertainty. Farmers and the micro-renewable energy sector need clarity,” Smith concluded.