The newly-announced national Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH), will not be funded “on a pocket full of change”, according to the chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) Renewables Project Team, James Murphy.

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten, confirmed the details of the scheme this morning, after it received government approval earlier this week.

In Budget 2018, a total of €7 million was allocated to fund the initial phase of the SSRH in the coming year.

Also Read: Official confirmation: All you need to know about the RHI Scheme

Murphy welcomed the announcement on the scheme, but he has said the priority for government must be to get the scheme fully operational as soon as possible.

“The sector has been waiting a long time for this announcement and it is very welcome to now have greater detail on the types of supports and the tariffs that will be available to commercial heat users under the scheme.

However, if we are to make a meaningful contribution to meeting the 2020 renewable heat targets, the scheme must be operational in the first quarter of 2018.

The demand for heat energy is the largest source of energy use in Ireland, accounting for 45% of all primary energy usage and 33% of CO2 emissions, according to the IFA.

The SSRH aims to increase the energy generated from renewable sources in the heat sector by approximately 3%, it added.

The magnitude of the challenge should not be underestimated, Murphy explained. He expressed concern that the proposed tariffs may not be sufficiently attractive to encourage the scale of adoption to renewable heating technologies that is required.

A properly funded SSRH with an annual budget of €100 million is an imperative if we are to increase the energy generated from renewable sources and meet the challenge.

“You’re not going to be able to fund this scheme with a pocket full of change. We’re going to be looking for clear evidence from government that this scheme will be properly funded and that there will be a clear market for biomass crops,” he said.

Meanwhile, Murphy indicated that – with the introduction of this scheme – there may be an opportunity to grab the attention of livestock and tillage farmers, who may be looking for alternative and viable land use options in order to supplement their income.

“Increased uptake of renewable energy offers enormous economic and environmental potential for Ireland and has been shown to positively impact regional competitiveness, innovation and diversification of economic activity in rural areas.

“It can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help Ireland move to a low-carbon economy and improve waste management,” Murphy said.

Further reaction

Also reacting to the announcement was the president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, Patrick Kent. He described it “as a step along the road towards making renewable energy a central part of meeting climate change targets.

However there will be disappointment that biomethane injection from anaerobic digesters is not included in phase one.

“Nonetheless, ICSA is hopeful, following our recent meeting with Minister Naughten, that he is committed to progressing the potential for anaerobic digesters to provide a win/win solution in terms of climate change, improved farm revenues and more efficient farming systems.

“The ICSA is anxious that biogas opportunities are progressed as early as possible in the new year and we expect that the consultation process will be expedited.

In a year where slurry spreading has proved hugely problematic in border counties especially, we have to look at smarter and more efficient ways of handling farm manures.

“We also want to see potential new outlets for farm crops, including grass, as it is clear that there is little incentive for cattle and sheep farmers to expand output at current livestock price levels,” he concluded.