IFA’s Project Team Chairman on Renewable Energy, James Murphy has said reaching our targets on renewable energy depends on providing certainty to landowners and extending the level of community involvement in projects.
James Murphy said, “There is significant potential to be unlocked from the farming sector to allow Ireland meet its commitments. In the past, inadequate supports have held back the contribution that could be made by farmers and the wider rural community. Overcoming the disillusionment that exists must be addressed to realise the true value of our land base. We see a tariff of 17c/kWh, guaranteed for 20 years and linked to CPI, as essential to securing farmer participation”.
Farmers across the country have had approaches from solar development companies in recent months. Various offers containing a combination of exclusivity agreements, grid connection contracts and option arrangements have been put on the table. James Murphy said the advice and direction to landowners is to consider any approaches with caution. “While solar energy production is well developed in other countries, it is very much in its infancy here. Farmers have to consider a number of issues before committing their land to any contract that is binding for a long-term project.”
There is a very strong case for lands that are used for solar energy production to be eligible for Basic Payment. Up to 90% of the lands under solar can be grazed and similarly 90% of the sward growth takes place, making the lands suitable for farming.
James Murphy said no applications should be accepted by any planning authorities unless they clearly state that communities in the vicinity of a proposed project have been consulted and engaged with. This community involvement must happen before the planning application is lodged.
“These same communities must be at the centre of future renewable energy developments. This means that to be eligible for state financial support, all large-scale energy development companies must offer at least 25% of each project for community ownership, once built out. In addition, each year at least 1% of the turnover from these projects must be invested back into local communities to support rural regeneration and employment.”