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Bord na Móna (Continued)

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 959 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill] The solution should and can come from Ireland's agriculture and agrifood economy. Not only would this mitigate European penalties, it would create employment in rural areas where job creation has become a myth.

Previous schemes such as the bioenergy establishment scheme, which encouraged farmers to grow willow and miscanthus, have failed miserably, with just four farmers applying for aid in 2015. Anaerobic digestion plants located at separate locations nationwide will reduce renewable gas using key energy crops such as grass, grass silage, beet, maize and the byproducts of the agriculture and food service industries and domestic food waste.

This represents a significant opportunity for the Irish agrifood sector. There is a massive opportunity for the growing of crops such as beet, maize and grass to feed biomass production plants. If all organic waste from food production and households could be put through an anaerobic digestion process in a local area instead of being transported across the country in lorries, we could solve multiple problems at once.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Thank you, Deputy.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill A project such as the one I am advocating would require up to 70 plants nationwide at key locations throughout the country-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Deputy, we will run out of time for the other Topical Issue matters.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill -----similar to our dairy co-op structure.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly The Deputy can come back in for his two minutes.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Denis Naughten): Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten First, I would like to state that Bord na Móna is a commercial semi-State company operating under the Turf Development Acts 1946 to 1998. The matter raised by the Deputy is operational in nature and not one in which I, as Minister, have direct function. Nevertheless, as the Minister with responsibility for Bord na Móna, I am aware of the consideration by the company of plans to construct a biomass facility in the United States.

In line with the objectives set out in the national mitigation plan, Bord na Móna has committed to cease the harvesting of peat for energy purposes by 2030. This move necessitates the transition towards a more sustainable business model going forward. To this end, I recently announced the establishment of a new division of Bord na Móna, namely, Bord na Móna BioEnergy, which will focus on the development of the biomass sector in Ireland. The new division aims to be the largest supplier of sustainable biomass in Ireland and will contribute to the development of demand for biomass fuel in the country through the development of robust supply chains from both indigenous and international sources.

One of the founding principles I had ensured was written into the operation of Bord na Móna BioEnergy was stringent sustainability criteria. Bord na Móna has now confirmed to me that these sustainability systems are in excess of what is currently required at either EU level or within Irish legislation. A similar stringent criteria will be put in place regarding the renewable heat incentive scheme.

Bord na Móna BioEnergy will complement the forthcoming renewable heat incentive, which is a demand-side measure with the principal objective of contributing to meeting our national renewable energy targets. In addition, the scheme provides a key opportunity for the domestic biomass sector and commercial opportunities for farmers. This will apply not just to biomass but to biogas and biomethane as well so the issues Deputy Cahill has raised will be addressed in the renewable heat incentive.

The renewable heat incentive will be designed to incentivise commercial opportunities for renewable heat technologies, including biomass boiler installations, and it is expected that arising from that, new opportunities will open up for biomass feedstock producers and in regard to anaerobic digestion.

I wish to advise the Deputy that an investment of this nature by Bord na Móna is subject to ministerial approval from both myself and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform as the shareholding Ministers. Any request for ministerial consent would be subject to detailed financial analysis by NewERA and policy analysis by the shareholding Departments, including my Department. Such an assessment would consider all options to source biomass. At this juncture, there has been no formal request for ministerial consent in respect of this project.

In response to the Deputy’s statement that similar raw material could be available here in Ireland, I am advised that international supply chains would be required, in the short and possibly medium term, in order to meet the demand created by ramped up biomass co-firing for power and the new and expanded combined heat and power, CHP, plants across the country, particularly as a result of the forthcoming renewable heat incentive, RHI. The long-term strategy is to maximise the volume of biomass produced indigenously.

The Government is fully committed to transitioning to a low carbon energy future and the 2015 energy White Paper and the recently published National Mitigation Plan set out a clear policy framework for that.

While domestic biomass supply is currently limited, this is an area where Bord na Móna BioEnergy can play a role by encouraging growth and assisting producers in the mobilisation and optimisation of their energy crops. These measures will assist indigenous biomass producers in establishing a new source of income.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I am afraid the Minister will not have time to finish; the four minutes are up. I am sorry about that, unless Deputy Cahill wants to give his two minutes to the Minister.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill The Minister's reply is welcome. That he still has not given ministerial approval to this planned investment is welcome also. We can have an Irish solution to this problem and that is what will benefit rural Ireland. That is the essence in terms of the reason these semi-State companies were founded. I accept the Minister's reply.

Currently, the average stocking rate is 80 kg/ha, which means that in terms of efficiency, we are using only 50% of our land. We have huge potential to grow energy crops in the agri-sector. We can develop this to benefit rural Ireland greatly. We have serious problems attracting investment into rural Ireland and this is an opportunity I do not want to see Bord na Móna let pass by.

The Minister's reply is along the lines of where I had hoped the Government's policy would be trying to take Bord na Móna and the biomass industry.

The sustainability of our food production is key to us. We see the problems the Dutch are experiencing with various environmental restrictions. We can take shortcuts to prevent this country going down that same cul-de-sac, and energy crops will have a huge part to play in that development in the future and in giving assurance to the consumer, and to the world, that we are producing food in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

This opportunity might not knock again. We have the ingredients to do this in rural Ireland. I welcome the Minister's reply and the initiatives coming from the Government. We can make this work for rural Ireland.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten To finish what I was saying earlier, I reiterate that my focus is on fostering the sustainable production of biomass in Ireland. Any actions taken in terms of the sourcing of biomass from abroad should be evaluated in the context of the capacity of the Irish biomass market, and my long-term objective is to ensure that biomass used in Ireland is grown as close as possible to the end user.

I was involved in a debate at the ploughing championships last week with the chief executive of Bord na Móna, Mike Quinn. He made it crystal clear that the company will import one tonne less of biomass for every tonne of biomass that can be sourced here in Ireland.

We are all singing from the same hymn sheet on this issue. The two big users of biomass in the short term are Lanesborough and Shannonbridge power stations, which are on the edge of my constituency. There is a huge opportunity for local farmers to supply those, but the demand will happen before the yield comes on those crops. We need to work with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on establishment grants and get these crops up and running, but we need to source biomass in the short term to meet the immediate demand. If we do not put a clear supply chain in place, there will not be the demand for the product when the farmers have grown it. That is what happened previously. We do not want that system to arise again.

The Deputy raised the issue of the staff in Littleton. Two issues arise, the first of which is the staff redundancies. I have been actively engaged with both the company and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on that issue. Second, I still believe there is a strong opportunity on that site to develop alternative industries, perhaps along the lines of what we have been speaking about here. I am happy to have a more detailed debate on all the strands we are now putting in place to develop the biomass renewable energy sector. I am happy to have that in the House or at a committee at any stage.

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