The Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) has told TDs and senators that solar “provides a practical option to aid agriculture” in its transition to more climate friendly practices.

Chief executive of the ISEA, Conall Bolger has been addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine at Leinster House this evening (Wednesday, May 4).

He told the committee that the Climate Action Plan aims for renewable electricity delivering 80% of power needs by 2030 and that achieving this target requires a strong contribution from solar.

Solar benefits

Bolger told the committee: “Given the right policy landscape, we believe Ireland can deliver 6GW of solar between now and 2030, which would be enough to meet one fifth of our electricity needs.”

He said that renewable energy has become more prevalent in Ireland this year and referenced the official connection of Millvale Solar Farm connecting to the national grid over the past week, the first solar farm in the country to do so.

“The Microgeneration Support Scheme should come into effect in July, and ISEA members report significant interest from individuals, communities, farms and businesses all seeking to participate in the energy transition,” Bolger added.

“To date, the climate conversation on agriculture has been a fraught one. Solar provides a practical option to aid agriculture in its transition.

“Making land available for solar developments presents opportunities for farmers to diversify their revenues with minimal impact on the sector.

“Our estimate of the necessary solar contribution to meet Ireland’s renewable target entails using the equivalent of about one fifth of 1% of Ireland’s total agricultural land,” he added.

The CEO said that Buildings such as sheds on many farms can host panels and enable farms to move towards energy independence.

He asked the Oireachtas members to consider the potential savings to the agri-food sector of generating their own clean power.

Challenges to solar energy

According to the ISEA there are barriers inhibiting progress to solar development in Ireland.

The chief executive of the association listed then in three broad categories as follows:

  1. The support structures require concerted action to maximise the take up of solar by farmers. ISEA feels the design of the TAMS II grant has been unduly restrictive, minimising take up. The timeline for the Microgeneration Support Scheme also needs to be made clear;
  2. Agricultural relief under Capital Acquisitions Tax (CAT) rules which allows farming families to inherit agricultural land without being subjected to potentially unaffordable levels of inheritance tax. Current rules allow farms with PV panels to qualify for the relief, provided that the panels do not take up more than half of the total land area. This stipulation is inadvertently preventing farmers from hosting solar panels;

Solar installation does not prevent the use of the land for agriculturally relevant purposes such as sheep grazing. Dependent on the equipment layout, international experience suggests that 55-80% of the land under lease could be available for use.

  1. Accessing the network is another area of concern. ISEA said it can be a lengthy, uncertain and expensive process and Ireland needs to rationalise that process for all users from an individual farmer seeking to export from their rooftop to the utility scale solar farm.

In the context of the third point listed above, the ISEA has said that direct lines could provide quicker routes for users to connect to renewable sources of energy.

The association believes it would allow large energy users such as agri-food facilities to satisfy much of their demand from green sources.

Positive steps

The CEO told the committee that there are some other positive steps that could be taken to promote this type of renewable energy.

These include:

  • A reduction in VAT rates on solar panels and related equipment;
  • Implementation of planning reforms for rooftop solar PV.

“By the end of this decade we believe that Ireland will be a greener country, providing its citizens and businesses with access to cheaper locally generated electricity,” Bolger said.

“We can meet our objectives, and solar is a necessary part of getting us there. Agriculture will benefit from solar at scale, and [this] requires the active participation of our agricultural sector,” he concluded.