Tuesday, 22 August 2017
Representing Irelands most rural constituency, I know the importance of agriculture and the role which it played in our economic survival over the last decade. Agriculture is our largest indigenous economic sector and the engine of life in rural Ireland so I am really pleased, as Minister with responsibility for the areas of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, to have this opportunity to speak here at the second Energy in Agriculture Event.
Your programme says the objective for today is to make sure that everyone walks away with new knowledge, new contacts and new ideas.
The Department that I lead is about using the natural resources that we have in a sustainable manner, to transform rural Ireland, support farming, drive employment and protect our people and our planet for future generations. My job is to provide the leadership through policies and programmes that translate aspiration into action.
I have spoken with Barry Caslin in Teagasc on many occasions and we both agree that we are at a critical point in our country's energy and climate history.
We are a country playing catch-up on our obligations in relation to climate change but this obligation, is an opportunity as much as an obligation. In any event I believe it is a moral necessity and a vital national interest. Nine people are displaced by climate change every minute - and it's not just places like Bangladesh but places like Boyle.
The National Climate Mitigation Plan was agreed by government and published in July. It sets out what we are doing and planning to do to move to a low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050.
It was considered in the context of an all-day Cabinet meeting on Climate Change. Delivery requires fundamental transformation of society and our economy. It requires resources and sustained policy change.
Ireland's first ever statutory National Mitigation Plan is an important first step. It faces up very frankly to the fact that we are coming from behind where we should be, and that the distance we must go is challenging. This is a whole of government plan and it is a living document. It is whole of government because all of government is signed-up and has agreed to its objectives.
We face real challenges in meeting our climate objectives and EU obligations.
Energy efficiency and climate action are inextricably linked. Using less energy and using it more efficiently is the most cost-effective way to combat climate change. The cheapest barrel of oil is the one we don't burn.
Energy efficiency is economic investment. It is social action, it is climate action. It is the cultural change which is essential to combat climate change. Our challenge is not the false difference between Pittsburgh and Paris. It is the real challenge which every parish and townland across this country faces, not in competition with, but in solidarity with the world.
These actions are the individual building blocks that will enable the Government and wider society to implement deeper reductions in emissions in the years ahead. Aligned with the National Mitigation Plan, my Department is also developing a National Clean Air Strategy by the end of this year with measures across sectors and for agriculture, have sustainable farm practices at its core, to reduce environment impacts and to improve air quality for all of us living on this island.
And farmers are open to change and it is very encouraging to see the very positive response to the most recent round of Government funding under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS).
The sustainable technologies promoted by this funding can have multiple benefits for the farming community and the environment through more efficient fertliser use, lower ammonia emissions and reduced impacts on our water quality in comparison to traditional methods.
In practice, achieving our aims will mean using increasing amounts of renewable energy on farms; encouraging farmers to adopt measures to increase their energy efficiency and incentivizing a growth in the domestic bioenergy sector.
Renewable Heat Incentive
I see the Renewable Heat Incentive as a tangible and viable measure to stimulate growth in the domestic biomass sector.
Crucially it will create new commercial opportunities for farmers in using new heat technologies as well as growing crops along with new opportunities for foresters. It will also help us to meet our EU renewable energy targets.
I see the RHI increasing the market demand for domestic biomass by up to 110,000 tonnes of additional biomass per year or 300 tonnes every single day.
The development of the RHI involved detailed economic analysis over 10 months, extensive engagement with industry and the publication of two public consultations on the design and implementation of the scheme. My department received close to 200 submissions from the public and the final design of the scheme incorporates the findings from these submissions.
I will be bringing the final proposal to Government next month on the technologies to be supported under the scheme and their costs.
The proposal I will bring to Government will include supports for Biomass Boilers, Heat Pumps and Anaerobic Digestion which will encompass Biogas boilers and Biomethane injection into the natural gas grid. This will help to support Gas Networks Ireland plans to have renewable gas make up 1/5th of the Irish gas network by 2030 including the use of compressed renewable gas for transport through heavy goods vehicles and buses.
In future the local school bus could be run on slurry from the farms of the children using the service!
A tiered level of payments will apply to each technology. Under the RHI payments will decrease with increasing scheme size and economies of scale. This will provide a balance between ensuring suitable incentives for investment and value for money for the exchequer.
It is vital the scheme has sufficient budgetary safeguards. The experience from other countries provides important lessons for the implementation of the RHI in Ireland.
The Scheme will also require State Aid clearance from the European Commission. But for me, I'm determined that the RHI does not go down the same road as the Bio Fuel Obligation Scheme for motor fuels benefiting farmers on the other side of the world instead of local producers.
Bord na Móna Bioenergy
That is why I recently secured Cabinet approval for the establishment of Bord na Móna Bioenergy, a new division of Bord na Móna, which aims to be the largest supplier of sustainable biomass in Ireland. Bord na Móna Bioenergy will contribute to the development of demand for biomass fuel in the country, through the development of robust supply chains, from both indigenous and in the shorter term international sources.
Mike Quinn will elaborate on this new biomass business but crucially it will complement the Renewable Heat Incentive. It will support the development of the domestic biomass market by mobilising biomass by products from the forestry sector, provide further opportunities for sustainable indigenous employment. As well as helping to establish a domestic biomass industry.
As a supply-side measure to develop a functioning domestic biomass market of scale, Bord na Móna BioEnergy represents an important step in the drive to establish reliable and environmentally sustainable sources of energy into the future.
While national biomass supply is currently limited, Bord na Móna BioEnergy can play a role in encouraging growth and assisting farmers and biomass producers in the mobilisation and optimisation of their biomass supplies.
Reducing costs can be as important to increasing income for farm families and one area that can make real difference to costs for farmers is energy efficiency. Actually, energy efficiency is the most cost effective way of reducing energy use and emissions in farms, homes, and businesses.
In 2015 Ireland relied on high emission imported fossil fuels to meet over 88% of our energy needs. This costs €1/2m /hour. That's a cost which our planet cannot afford at all.
There are already a number of incentives for energy efficiency equipment available to farmers whose business relates to poultry, pigs & horticulture. Depending on the size of the farm, tax incentives are available under the Accelerated Capital Allowance (ACA), which is available to farms paying corporate tax. ACA is a tax break which allows businesses to write off the cost of eligible equipment in one year rather than over eight years under conventional accounting rules. One option for smaller farmers to consider is to reclaim VAT on the deployment of electricity micro-generation technologies - such as small scale wind turbines.
While tax initiatives are beneficial, the main scheme available to farmers in the energy efficiency space is the Better Energy Communities. Better Energy Communities is one of the major funding programmes available through the SEAI to cover energy efficient equipment and is open to all sectors coming together as a community, including the specific farming sectors.
For a very long time too many people have thought of energy efficiency in terms of insulating attics and plugging draughts. We have to change this because it can't deliver enough and frankly it misses the point that energy is scarce, it costs money and we simply have to manage it better. We have to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things and we have to try to see how these work. We have to reinforce the best of these and abandon those that don't give us the best bang for our Euro.
I am a strong supporter of piloting new ideas and schemes. I am pleased to confirm that the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is about to launch a pilot scheme with dairy farmers in collaboration with Teagasc that will provide funding for Variable Speed Drive (VSD) Vacuum Pumps, VSD milk pumps, Heat Recovery on milk cooling and smart meters.
I encourage farmers to really embrace energy efficiency and visit the SEAI stand here today. You can find out more about how to be more energy efficient on the farm and the supports and funding opportunities that are available.
Just like electricity unlocked the potential of a young country when Ardnacrusha was opened 90 years ago, broadband will unlock the full potential of Europes youngest population and facilitate the exploitation of innovation and ideas that are untapped in every community in Ireland.
Today we are rolling out High Speed Broadband in Ireland at a rate of two homes every minute of every working day, the majority of which are in rural Ireland.
Broadband allows business to operate anywhere because distance and location no longer matter. Broadband i snot a solution but it facilitates solutions. It allows people to work closer to their homes which supports communities, families and reduces congestion in our cities, and that's energy efficient.
In April, I signed a commitment agreement with Eir that commits them to deliver fibre high speed broadband to 500 houses every day.
Here, in County Tipperary, there are approximately 84,000 premises. At the end of June, 46% of these premises can already access high speed broadband through commercial deployment and 19% are covered by planned commercial deployment within 70 weeks. The remaining 35% of premises are in areas where commercial operators have no plans to invest. These premises will receive high speed broadband through the State intervention.
The frustration of poor mobile phone coverage and blackspots is being tackled. Telecoms operators are now providing details of their network coverage to local authorities to identify blackspots and develop plans to fix them. There is now a Broadband Officer as a single point of contact for the public and telecoms operators in each local authority which is key to overcoming obstacles quickly.
Finally, I would like to talk briefly about the BioEconomy. The EU Commission launched the EU BioEconomy Strategy in 2012 and estimates some 22 million jobs are related to the BioEconomy. Here in Ireland the AgriFood sector is investing in research to develop new processes and products. Part of this process involves the application of technology to renewable natural produce to gain added value for the producer and consumer as can be seen in the relatively new market for high protein foodstuffs.
My Department is represented on a Working Group on the BioEconomy chaired by the Department of An Taoiseach. A consultation paper has been issued to help policymakers gain an understanding of how Ireland can best position itself to develop the Bio Economy. It's on the Taoiseach's website and I would urge you to look at it. We know that Ireland has some of the most successful, high quality, food producers in the world and government policy needs to be in a position to foster growth in the BioEconomy area while ensuring that environmental sustainability is central to its development.
It is important the developments in the BioEconomy are compatible with cleaner greener image of Ireland that helps market a lot of our agricultural produce internationally. If we harness our natural resources and add the scientific techniques learned by our highly educated workforce, Ireland can be a global leader in the BioEconomy.
Thank you for your time this morning and I hope you have a new understanding of the drivers of National policy. I've no doubt that the programme set out will lead to plenty of useful dialogue and will prove to be a useful exercise for all involved.