Through the All-of-Government Climate Action Plan, my Department is working closely with other government Departments to ensure Ireland's transition to a low carbon economy and society. While agriculture contributes to the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases, the sector also has the means to be part of the alleviation process and has a key role to play in transitioning to a competitive, low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050.
Ireland's long-term policy vision for the agriculture and land use sector is 'an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise the capacity for sustainable food production'.
While carbon neutrality is yet to be fully defined, our policy approach is based on three principles:
- Reducing agriculture emissions;
- Increasing carbon sequestration; and
- The displacement and substitution of fossil fuel and energy intensive materials.
Indigenous renewable energy plays a vital role in our domestic fuel mix and will become even more important in the context of reducing our reliance on imported fuels and in meeting our challenging renewable energy targets for 2020 and 2030 and decarbonising our energy systems by 2050.
Ireland has a 16% target for renewable energy by 2020 and the production of indigenous biomass has a crucial role to play in helping us meet this renewable energy target and my Department has a key role to play in the supply of biomass materials in this regard.
Through the forestry programme, my Department is committed to increasing the supply of biomass from Ireland’s forests. In 2018, 40% of the wood fibre used in Ireland was used for energy generation, mainly within the forest products sector, up from 34% a couple of years ago. This represents over 1.5 million cubic metres of wood fibre and includes, roundwood, sawmill and residues such as bark, sawdust and woodchip. The new Support Scheme for Renewable Heat is creating additional demand for biomass particular since the second phase was launched during the summer which will provide operational support for biomass boilers.
According to the All Ireland Roundwood Forecast 2016 – 2035, output from Irish forests is expected to double over the coming decades to around 8 million cubic metres. Most of this increased production will come from private forest owners. In fact, during 2018 total timber production from private forest owners exceeded 1 million cubic metres for the first time. In order to address the barriers that exist in mobilising this resource, my Department supports a number of targeted measures including the construction of forest roads to provide access to the timber, knowledge transfer groups to assist forest owners in managing their forests and grants for second thinning of broadleaves which provides an important source of local firewood.
The Department did previously operate a bioenergy scheme to facilitate the establishment of energy crops (including willow and miscanthus) for use in renewable energy production. However, due to a low uptake, the scheme was suspended from 2016 and there are currently no plans to re-introduce support. On-going support for the production of biomass will continue to be provided under the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 which funds private afforestation and includes a specific “forestry for fibre” scheme.
My Department continues to consider all opportunities for further developments in the area of biomass in the context of the next Forestry Programme and the next CAP Strategic programme, which is currently being developed.
The Deputy will appreciate that Bord na Móna is a commercial State company operating under the Turf Development Acts, 1946 to 1998, and, as such, operational matters are the responsibility of the Board and management of the Company. Therefore, neither I nor my colleague the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment does not have any statutory function in relation the operation of, or the sourcing of fuel for, electricity generation plants.
I understand from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment that the decision of the ESB to withdraw the co-firing planning application for Lough Ree Power and to not submit a new co-firing planning application for West Offaly Power is unlikely to alter supply demand estimates for biomass with regard to wood energy to any great extent.