IFA Member Services is reviewing the commercial opportunities for farmers in the renewables area. A commercial offer must be available to all farmers regardless of size or location. It was agreed to look more closely at a small scale rooftop Solar proposition in the first instance.
A phase one feasibility study was sanctioned by the IFA Member Services Board. The preliminary results of the feasibility study were presented to the Board, the Environment Committee and National Council in June and July 2021 indicating that there is an opportunity for farmers.
In December, IFA in association with Bord Gáis Energy launched a comprehensive solar pilot for farmers with the successful installation and commissioning of two farms.
The purpose of this pilot is to establish what works commercially and the challenges to implementation;
- Prove delivery capability
- Proof of concept – Battery, load shifting, process change, energy reduction
- Learnings about the actual paybacks for full range of farmers, sectors, size, location
- Determine barriers to entry
- Determine appetite and funding on both sides – farmer/entity
The pilot is now being rolled out to a further 8 farms across a number of sectors and geographies.
IFA will act as an aggregator in a centralised function to manage the proposition along with a utility partner Bord Gáis Energy. This centralised entity will manage all aspects of the business and act as a trusted adviser for farmers. It is proposed to be a full service proposition to farmers, survey, design, installation, grant application, billing, trading and maintenance
Robert McBride, a poultry farmer, from Monaghan and John Murphy, a dairy farmer, from Cork are the first two working farms of what will be a 10 farm comprehensive pilot that will monitor and test all elements of the micro-generation process to determine what needs to change to allow farmers participate in the move towards renewable energy. The main objective of this pilot is to establish what works and the challenges that create barriers to implementation.
Significant policy changes are required from the Government, the Energy Regulator and ESB Networks in order for any proposition to make financial sense. The key requirement is that up to a 60% capital grant is needed to ensure the proposition makes financial sense. IFA is proposing the following measures to support the deployment of solar energy on farms:
1. Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Schemes (TAMS)
The Government must honour commitment to increase grant aid to 60% for solar projects under TAMS. Additional funding for solar projects must be allocated (in addition to the proposed TAMS/On Farm Capital Investment Scheme budget). In addition, the size restriction (maximum size of PV panels eligible for grant aid is 11kW) should be removed and should be dependent on the energy needs of the farm.
2. Introduce a new small-scale solar generation scheme for farms
A scheme should be introduced for farmers to support the deployment of solar PV on farms. There are significant limitations under the TAMS. This is leading to energy inefficiency and is restricting the financial viability of many solar projects on farms and should be replaced with a dedicated small-scale solar generation scheme funded via SEAI.
3. Microgeneration Support Scheme (MSS)
The MSS target is to support the installation of 380MW micro-generation capacity. IFA seeks that the measures to support the deployment of solar for larger non-domestic sites. Under the scheme domestic residences and farm buildings should be linked using private wire systems so they can share electricity produced.
4. VAT exemption
VAT rates for solar panels and other solar equipment currently range from 13.5% to 23%. This increases the overall cost of solar equipment. All solar equipment should be exempted from VAT to support deployment of solar on farms.
5. Net metering
Smart Metering is being roll out nationally and this should enable farms that produce excess energy produced from solar installations to export to the grid (outside of the MSS and RESS schemes) to receive remuneration from their electricity supplier for any excess energy exported.
6. Low-cost grid access
A major challenge to adoption of solar energy is the grid connection process, which continues to be a deterrent to the delivery of on-farm renewable projects. Small scale projects must be able to access the grid through a simplified transparent process, with reduced costs and a grid connection timescale to improve the success rate of projects.
7. Implement planning permission exemptions for rooftop solar panels
The proposed revisions to the existing planning exemptions for the installation of solar panels on the roofs of houses and certain non-domestic buildings.