No more than is the case with Deputy Stanley, this issue is very close to my heart. I have a large personal interest in it. I should also declare two vested interests, those being, Lanesborough and Shannonbridge.
There has been significant progress to date in the use of biomass in Ireland. In 2016, 6.8% of energy consumption in the heat sector came from renewable sources. Of this, three quarters came from biomass. Biomass also contributes to renewable electricity production, including through co-firing at the Edenderry power station. In addition, bioenergy in the form of biofuels makes up the majority of the renewable energy used in the transport sector.
The draft bioenergy plan, published in 2014, establishes the broader context for the development of Ireland's bioenergy sector. It recognises that meeting the demand for biomass from indigenous sources could deliver significant economic and employment benefits and contains measures to stimulate and support the supply of Irish biomass. The plan highlights a range of supply-side and demand-side measures that are needed to release the full potential of the domestic biomass sector in Ireland.
Supply-side measures, such as support for bioenergy crops, fall within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed. However, I highlight the recent significant increases in support under the forestry for fibre scheme that were made as part of the mid-term review of the forestry programme. These supports will provide an increased incentive for landowners considering planting forestry to supply the energy sector.
A key demand-side measure is the support scheme for renewable heat. I secured Government approval for this scheme in December and expect it to become operational later this year, subject to EU state aid approval. The objective of the scheme is to increase the level of renewable energy and reduce emissions in the heat sector. In addition, the scheme will open up new opportunities for indigenous biomass feedstock producers by incentivising opportunities for renewable heat technologies, including biomass boiler installations. I note that the scheme will include strict sustainability criteria covering the biomass supply chain.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
As operator of the co-firing power plant in Edenderry, Bord na Móna prioritises domestic biomass supply, with every domestic tonne of biomass displacing an imported tonne. I am informed that approximately 80% of the biomass supplied to Edenderry in 2017 was indigenous. Bord na Móna supports the development of the domestic biomass market via its bioenergy division, which works to mobilise the biomass supply potential of privately owned forestry, thereby providing further opportunities for sustainable indigenous employment.
The ESB operates the power station at Shannonbridge, known as West Offaly Power. I understand that the ESB plans to convert this plant to co-firing with biomass, along with the power station in Lanesborough, known as Lough Ree Power. While there may be a need to source some of the biomass for the stations internationally in the short term, the conversion of the peat plants to biomass over time can facilitate the development of domestic and local biomass supply chains. This is important in the context of the economic and employment aspects of the transition to a low-energy future, as set out in the national mitigation plan.