Thursday, 11 December 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Bioenergy Strategy Implementation
1. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when he will publish a biomass strategy; if he has sought to examine the possibility of transforming Moneypoint, County Clare, to biomass to reduce our carbon emissions; his views on converting our peat power stations to biomass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47396/14]
The draft bioenergy plan was published in October and will undergo strategic environmental and appropriate assessments which will inform the content of the finalised plan. These assessment processes will commence shortly.
The draft plan sets out the broader context for the development of the biomass sector, as well as the current status with regard to the range of policy areas that must be co-ordinated to create the conditions necessary to support the development of this sector. The REFIT, renewable energy feed in tariff, schemes are the primary means through which electricity from a range of renewable sources is supported. In this regard, electricity from biomass, including co-firing with peat, is already supported through REFIT. The draft bioenergy plan recommends the continuation of REFIT for electricity generated from biomass and that the scheme would be kept under review to assess the most cost-effective way to support co-firing of biomass with peat.
The choice of technology is, however, ultimately a commercial decision for individual project developers and the fuel used at the Moneypoint plant is a matter for the operator. The Minister has no role or function in this regard. Notwithstanding this, there are several important issues that would demand further consideration before biomass could be used at Moneypoint. The conversion of Moneypoint to biomass would require significant levels of capital investment by the operator. Support tariffs substantially higher than those available for wind, the most cost-effective renewable technology in the electricity market, would also be required which could lead to increased electricity prices. Substantially more biomass than is available domestically would be required with large amounts of the resource having to be imported leading to uncertainty in security of supply. The sustainability of transporting large amounts of imported biomass would also be a cause for concern. The commitment of substantial amounts of biomass to Moneypoint would divert scarce biomass away from the renewable heat sector where biomass can be used more efficiently and where fewer alternative technologies exist.
The Minister and the Department will have to look carefully at the biomass issue. I have examined the use of biomass at the Drax power station in the United Kingdom, a station which generates 10% of the United Kingdom’s electricity requirements.
On the Minister’s point about transportation costs of biomass to the Moneypoint station, the same costs are already in place for transporting coal there. The boilers installed in the plant when it was constructed in 1979 are easier to convert to biomass than any other alternative fuel. Biomass should be put high on the renewables agenda because it is the best way to see reductions in carbon emissions.
I agree with the Deputy that biomass has a role in the bioenergy sector. It is hoped that biomass will account for 5% of the renewable electricity targets for 2020. Bord na Móna’s peat-generating plant in Edenderry, County Offaly, has been using biomass. It is expected the plant will apply to the Department under the REFIT scheme. The ESB, however, has so far not given any indication of using biomass at its power station in Lanesboro, County Longford.
While transportation costs are a factor, the real concern is with the renewable heat sector. Biomass is more efficient in this regard. Unlike wind, it is also a scarce resource. While there are constraints in its use, I accept there is potential in the use of biomass.
There is huge potential with biomass.
The changes to the Common Agricultural Policy introduced by Ray MacSharry have resulted in a major increase in afforestation, with sitka spruce the main species of tree used. The Drax power station in the United Kingdom imports this raw material from the United States. With proper research and development, it would be possible to deliver considerable added value in this area. Much of the timber coming on stream nationally is being sold as pulp and pellets at a low, albeit reasonable, return. We should target other uses for these resources. Given that they are being used differently in other parts of the world, why not use our commodity as biomass? Ireland is slightly behind the curve on this issue. Biomass is the way forward and we must challenge the system to seek to integrate the resources available to us.
The Deputy and I are on the same page with regard to the potential of this sector. If officials have not examined the case in the United Kingdom to which the Deputy referred as part of the consultation process on the draft bioenergy plan, I will ensure they do so. Realising the potential from forestry presents cross-departmental opportunities. I will contact the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, to examine this potential. The way forward is to take a concerted, constructive and organised approach.