It is worrying that more than 20,000ac of Irish farm land is now under some form of solar energy contract, yet there is no clear cut policy from the Government on this issue.

This is according to the IFA Renewables Project Team Chairman James Murphy, who said that Government inaction is leading to speculative prospecting by solar energy development companies.

“I am not surprised that there is 20,000ac under some form of solar contract, as tillage and drystock farmers are looking at every alternative to increase their income stream,” he said.

Farmers have yet to receive clarity from the Government on basic questions such as the financial support that will be available through the REFIT tariff, he said.

While farmers who have signed up to solar energy agreements do not know where they stand in terms of accessing the tariff, he said.

It is wrong of Government to allow this flux to continue.

Murphy also said that clarity is urgently required on questions such as how many megawatts of solar energy will receive financial support and what tariff premium will be provided where communities are involved in renewable energy projects.

He added that it must be made clear if all farmers who have signed contracts will be able to access the tariffs, and, if not what is going to happen to the thousands of farmers who have signed contracts with legitimate expectation.

Advice for farmers

At this stage, Murphy advised farmers who have been approached by a solar development company, and have not yet signed an exclusivity agreement or other paperwork, to think carefully as these farmers are at the back of a long queue.

It is important that farmers understand that exclusivity agreements are unnecessary and only buy time for the development company.

“Instead, a full suite of option and lease contracts should be sought, and the term of the option should be no longer than three-to-five years – if a project has not progressed by then it may be unlikely to happen.

“The contract must also include a clause stating that if the project is not developed on the lands, the associated grid reverts back to the landowner,” he said.

On seeking advice, Murphy said that it is important for farmers to get good independent legal advice before signing anything, while good taxation advice is also required.

“Remember, you are making decisions not just for you but also for the next generation,” he concluded.