Written Answers. - Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

24 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he has investigated the potential of fuel crops in replacing a significant percentage of fossil fuels and helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. [19159/03]

Technologies for the conversion of biomass to fuel are well established and are in use in some countries. I understand that Teagasc have investigated the potential for energy production from biomass crops in replacing fossil fuels, which in turn would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I am aware of the potential advantages of the development of an Irish biofuel industry. Apart from the environmental benefit, there is a large market to be exploited and the economic and strategic value of a secure indigenous fuel supply would be substantial. On the other hand it would require extensive areas of land to be diverted from the traditional enterprises; although current fossil fuel prices are variable they are still low, resulting in biofuels being currently uncompetitive in price.

At the outset of the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy, the European Commission had proposed to prohibit the use of set-aside land to produce any crop for commercial purposes. This would have limited the potential to develop an indigenous Irish biofuel industry and I welcome the fact that the Commission changed its position in the course of the negotiations, so that the use of set-aside land for non-food crops will be permitted. I particularly welcome the agreement under the mid-term review for the introduction of a new stand-alone payment of €45 per hectare for the growing of energy crops, and I hope that this payment will encourage the further growth of these crops.