Thursday, 31 March 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Renewable Energy Generation
125. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the supports his Department has put in place to encourage the installation of solar panels on farms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16870/22]
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. While overall national energy policy formation is the direct responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, my Department engages closely with it on energy-related matters from an agricultural perspective as well as with a wide range of industry and other stakeholder groupings.
The importance of renewable energy generation, particularly from microgeneration, in mitigating carbon emissions has been reflected in the inclusion of targets for this area in the recently released Climate Action Plan 2021, Securing Our Future. In December 2021, the microgeneration support scheme, MSS, was launched. It supports the deployment of an expected 380 MW of new micro power - that is, up to 50 kW - through rooftop and ground-mounted solar photovoltaic cells, PV. Landowners and farmers, in particular, will be able to benefit from the move to renewables, as set out under Food Vision 2030, which recognises that the agricultural sector has a key role to play in helping Ireland meet its renewable energy targets.
To help encourage on-farm renewable technology uptake and usage further, grant aid is provided through the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, to assist farmers in maximising their contribution to the production of renewable energy through the installation of solar PV technology along with battery storage on farms. The solar PV systems grant aided under TAMS include solar PV panels and solar PV rechargeable batteries as well as solar panels for water heating under the pigs and poultry scheme.
Applications under TAMS for solar investments are being received on an ongoing basis. A total of 126 applications have received payment for solar investments to date. The grant aid under the scheme is available at the standard rate of 40%, with a higher grant rate of 60% available to qualified young farmers. I am proposing that support for renewable energy investments will continue under the new capital investment scheme as part of the CAP strategic plan submitted to the European Commission for approval last December.
All these schemes encourage the installation of solar panels on farms. This is an area of real and genuine potential to help farmers generate an income while continuing to play a leadership role in meeting our climate ambitions.
I thank the Minister for his response. I am happy that he is a supporter of this scheme, whereby farmers are encouraged and supported to install solar PV on their farmers. Will he clarify the situation regarding payment for farmers who used the money from TAMS to install solar PV? Are they entitled to receive payment for any electricity that they put out onto the grid? What is the rate? If they are not entitled to such payment, why not?
Under EU regulations, where a farmer is using CAP funding through TAMS, it has to be for his or her own use on the farm, not for generating electricity for payment. It is important that we develop such generation, of course. At the start of this year, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his Department came forward with a proposal to ensure that feed-in electricity being generated on farms or elsewhere could be paid for. If we drive this forward, it has great potential.
Any solar PV panels funded under TAMS must be for own use on farms as opposed to generation. While we have to drive forward on feeding electricity into the grid, TAMS funding cannot be used for it.
Does the Minister agree that this is counterproductive and does not encourage farmers to put solar PV in place on their farms? Would it not be much better if they could get some payment for the electricity they free into the grid? Under the EU renewable energy directive II, consumers have the right to receive remuneration. Will the Minister let me know where exactly the rules say this cannot be done? Will he make some effort to get them changed, especially now when we need as many people as possible to generate electricity in Ireland? Does he agree that there are farmers all over the country who would be more than willing to erect solar PV panels? Is it not only fair that they would be paid for any surplus they feed into the grid? This would encourage further development in the area. We could be facing into power cuts in the autumn, given what is happening globally.
I commend the Deputy on raising this issue. I agree with his final point wholeheartedly.
This is one of the areas where any of us who stand on farmyards can see a glaring opportunity for farmers to contribute positively to our climate action obligations and that they want to play that positive role. I agree with the point that farmers must be able to include and sell excess electricity into the grid.
I will add that we need to ensure farmers are rewarded for the emissions they save as a result of these actions in order that they can be offset in respect of the on-farm emissions liability. The Minister will know I am a strong believer in the need to assess, on a farm-by-farm basis, emissions, sequestration and the capture that takes place on individual farms to reward farmers for best practice. This is one of those areas, but I fear that farmers will not be recognised for the electricity being generated on their farms.
I thank the Deputies. Deputy Stanton is correct that it makes absolute sense to reward and incentivise farmers to feed into the grid and develop the potential of family farms to make a real contribution to energy production, in addition to what that means for emissions and what it can mean in delivering an income for farmers. There is a challenge with TAMS investments in particular and the rules around how they are used.
It is a wider cap. I will get the exact details for the Deputy on the piece around that. TAMS supports on-farm generation for on-farm usage. It is a very sensible and worthwhile thing for farmers to do but it is mainly being used by those who have higher energy needs at present. It only makes sense if farmers use the electricity generated and, therefore, it is more limited in that sense. The Government is committed to delivering the capacity to pay farmers to generate electricity. As Minister, I am considering alongside that how we can drive it on, and enable and work with farmers to deliver on that potential. I thank the Deputy for tabling the question.