Farmers and renewable energy professionals showed both eagerness for the imminent launch of support schemes and frustration at delays such as those in obtaining a connection to the national electricity grid at this Tuesday’s Energy in Agriculture open day.
Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten and other Government officials confirmed that support schemes would open for renewable heat this year and electricity next year – but, in both cases, the tranches supporting farmers most directly will only open at a later stage.
The grants opened this month for domestic solar photovoltaic panels may also extend to farm buildings in the future, but this is at the “analysis” stage, Minister Naughten said. However, he insisted that “all of these policies will provide real opportunities for rural Ireland and for the farming community”.
IFA renewables project chair Tom Short said the €300m pledged so far for the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat was “a pittance” and more incentives were needed to develop the industry. Yet, there was no sign of new farm-level support for energy crops from Department of Agriculture officials.
With attention focused elsewhere by the weather crisis, the attendance at the event in Gurteen College, Co Tipperary, was smaller this year than at previous events. There were fewer onlookers and more farmers with concrete projects in the pipeline – many of whom complained of continuing delays in obtaining a grid connection to sell their renewable electricity.
Co Wicklow sheep farmer Ashley Bourne told the Irish Farmers Journal that he had been waiting for two years for a connection from ESB Networks for a planned solar farm on 4ac of his land and did not know how much longer he would have to wait. Listen to his interview in our podcast below:
Listen to "Farmer waits two years for solar energy connection" on Spreaker.
New priority rules for grid connections favour people like Ashley, who have secured planning permission. But they have only been in place since May and have not yet had an effect on the backlog of hundreds of applications in the queue.
They have, however, increased confidence among European investors willing to put money into renewable energy projects on Irish farmland, according to Michael Moore of renewable energy development firm, Elgin Energy.
Along with the ESB, Bord na Móna was highlighted by Minister Naughten as the main future link to connect farmers with markets on the biomass side of the industry. Both semi-state companies were absent from the event’s exhibitors and speakers.
Read more in this week's Irish Farmers Journal.
Bright future for on-farm renewables
Renewable electricity schemes to generate questions at Energy in Agriculture
Turning trees into cash
Rooftop solar scheme attractive for smaller farms