Wednesday, 12 May 2004

Ceisteanna (21, 22, 23)

John Gormley

Ceist:

40 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department has carried out an analysis of the possible use of waste wood products from the forestry industry as a fuel mix in peat and coal powered electricity generation stations; and the level of substitution he views as possible in each case. [13691/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Gormley

Ceist:

98 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the joint research projects being undertaken with the Department of Agriculture and Food, Teagasc and the farming organisations to develop the potential of renewable energy and biofuel sources from agriculture and forestry resources. [13692/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

99 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his Department’s policy on the potential use of wood pellet technology for heating and small scale electricity generation plants. [13690/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (26 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40, 98 and 99 together.

In December 2003, my Department, in association with Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, set up a bioenergy strategy group, BSG. The primary objective of the group is to consider the policy options and support mechanisms available to Government to stimulate increased use of biomass for energy conversion and to make specific recommendations for action to increase the penetration of biomass energy in Ireland.

Biomass can be subdivided into waste categories and purpose grown energy crops, including short rotation forestry and miscanthus grass. The use of biomass as fuel for generation of both electricity and heat are within the remit of the BSG. The BSG is holding a series of meetings each exploring a different aspect of the exploitation of biomass energy, one aspect of which is the potential use of wood pellet technology.

Input to the group is from a wide range of interested parties, including those in the wood processing industry, Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture and Food. The BSG will produce a strategy report for publication. It will contain a road map for the development of biomass energy with the identification of staged, achievable targets and recommendations for future action. It is expected that this report will be available at the end of this year and will link in with the Department's renewables consultation process and newly formed renewables development group.

Ireland has an excellent growing climate and an ongoing supply of raw material for wood fuel. Wood residues are already being used to produce heat for sawmills across the country and the wood energy market is poised for growth, with a number of commercial start-ups and a supply chain emerging. Wood residues can be broken down into four categories: pulpwood residues; sawmill residues; forest residues; and recycled wood. Responsibility for commercial development would be a day-to-day decision for the commercial companies involved.

Sustainable Energy Ireland has commissioned a report to investigate the potential for co-firing biomass in peat and coal powered stations. In this case, biomass includes, for example, wood, straw, tallow, meat and bonemeal. This study will be completed in May and preliminary findings indicate that there is good potential for the co-firing of biomass at power stations. I will forward details of the study to the Deputies when it is published later this month.

SEI has also published two studies entitled, A Resource Study on Recovered Vegetable Oil and Animal Fats and An Assessment of the Renewable Energy Resource Potential of Dry Agricultural Residues in Ireland. I will forward these to the Deputies for information.

I have the latter report so the Minister of State does not need to send it to me. However, I am keen to hear how much wood we can put into the peat-fired power stations. The Minister might claim it as an area of outstanding success where again we have been a victim of our success but it was interesting to hear the Minister of State mention the creation of a new strategy group to look into this matter and bring forward recommendations. Is the Minister of State aware of the recommendations in the report for the energy panel by Forfás? That report was carried out in conjunction with the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation about seven years ago. It set out a clear strategy for investment in biomass technology and the use of waste wood and wood pellet technology as being an immediate priority given our energy circumstances. Did the Department act on that report? Why are we coming back to the issue again?

I refer to wood pellet products. I attended a conference on renewable energy in Austria last year. The adaptation of technology there was remarkable in terms of heating purposes and small scale generation. Have we looked at other countries to see why they are able to generate biomass, fuel-driven products, biomass wood pellet products and these other technologies which they are rapidly developing and which we are now only assessing yet again as a possible option? Seven or eight years ago, the State body responsible for the area recommended that this was exactly the technology we should develop? Why has this technology stagnated in the seven years since the Government first took office?

I am aware of the report to which the Deputy referred. Sustainable Energy Ireland is already providing funding for technical demonstrations through the renewable energy research development and demonstration programme. Grainger sawmill in Cork is an example of a wood-fired power plant. That 1.8 megawatt electrical power plant will open shortly, fuelled by sawmill residues. My Department is working closely with Sustainable Energy Ireland and other potential developers in this area, to ensure that such developments continue.

When it comes to renewable energy, whether it concerns wind, biofuels, biomass or woodchips, why does Ireland seem to lag behind the rest of Europe? The reality is that in other EU countries, including Scandinavia, Germany, France and Spain, industries have already been developed to use the climatic conditions for wind power or, in this case, growing plantations for the use of wood biomass. Other countries are five years ahead of us, while we are still undertaking studies and producing reports. If we are serious about this, why are we not moving ahead? We do not need to reinvent the wheel because the template already exists in other countries for us to follow. Surely we should just get on with it.

I echo the comments of my colleagues. Is the Minister putting all his eggs into the Corrib field basket? Does he expect to find massive energy resources off the west coast? Does he consider that Ireland does not need to invest in alternative energy, as the other countries referred to have been doing?

Unfortunately, the resources from the Corrib gas field would only run this country for about 18 months, if we were to rely on it.

That is not what the Minister says.

That is what I have been told.

Where does the Deputy stand on it?

Whatever about the development of wood pellets as a finished product, what detailed talks has the Minister had with Coillte concerning the amount of waste wood available from current and future forestry production? Will the Minister outline whether his Department has carried out talks with the IFA or other farmers' organisations whose members are facing a bleak future due to changes in the Common Agricultural Policy and the lack of clear vision as to what crops can be provided. What talks is the Minister having with the IFA to set out a bold future for Irish agriculture in developing these high-value products?

That is not what Fine Gael says about it.

Will the Minister reply?

How will the Green Party sit with Fine Gael in Cabinet, if they ever get there?

Is the Minister talking to the IFA?

The Green Party wants to abolish the CAP.

I think the Minister will find that we are ad idem on this item.

The Green Party wants to abolish the CAP, while Fine Gael wants to keep it.

There is huge opportunity for agriculture in energy crops.

Fianna Fáil is the problem in this matter, not Fine Gael.

God help Ireland.

I have been very much involved with the IFA in County Wexford and the County Wexford Marts concerning alternative crop growing projects. Sustainable Energy Ireland is funding a major project in this area for growing rafolium.

It is a test crop.

Of course other European countries are ahead of us because their stronger economies were developed much earlier than ours. Over the past ten years, however, the Department has put great effort into the development of alternative energies.

If there were tax incentives, it would happen overnight.

We are the victims of Fianna Fáil.

I assure Deputies that we will continue to work with Sustainable Energy Ireland which, in turn, is working closely with Coillte on the issues that have been raised. We will continue to progress this development into the future. A major energy conference was held today in Dublin, attended by delegates from all over the world who had come to see how we are dealing with energy issues. They had meetings with representatives of Sustainable Energy Ireland and other groups involved in this area.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.