State support schemes to reduce carbon emissions should be open till 2030 – Kelly

Ireland must face up to political mix in European Parliament and green agenda – MEP

Fine Gael  MEP Sean Kelly:  Ireland must up its game in using renewable energy for heating and cooling in particular. Photograph:  Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly: Ireland must up its game in using renewable energy for heating and cooling in particular. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision


All State support schemes to help reduce carbon emissions including retrofitting buildings must be kept open and funded up to 2030, such is the scale of the task to address climate change, according to Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly.

Referring to controversy where hundreds of applicants were excluded from a Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland retrofit scheme for houses run and funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Mr Kelly said: “We cannot have a situation where a grant scheme closes unexpectedly. This has to change.” The scheme has now been re-opened to evaluate applications from 300 excluded people.

Now that demanding targets for reducing emissions and adopting renewable energy were in place for 2030, “all schemes which the Government introduces should be open until 2030”, he said at the opening of the 2019 Energy in Agriculture conference at Gurteen College, Co Tipperary.

Ireland had to face up to the hard reality of the political mix in the European Parliament and the green agenda which meant a demanding 32 per cent target for renewable energy was likely to be increased, while the EU’s governance regime would ensure every country delivers, he said. The Ireland South MEP led negotiations for the European People’s Party in setting more ambitious targets under the new renewable energy directive.

Ireland had to up its game in using renewable energy for heating and cooling in particular, as its performance was behind climate laggards Hungary and Poland, but this was a major opportunity for farmers, he added.

UCD environmental researcher Dr Cara Augustenborg said that while incentives and supports were in place, the big issue was continued funding. A tough conversation had to take place within Government on expenditure; stopping funds in some areas and shifting them to decarbonisation.

Obvious areas to look at were subsidies for oil and gas exploration, and the absence of an aviation tax. Ultimately, political leadership would be needed on this, she said.

Her initial view response to the pilot retrofitting scheme debacle was “despair”, given the need to retrofit some 500,000 homes in coming years.

Interest in retrofitting buildings was such that people would not tolerate withdrawal of funding, she believed, though she accepted there might be a need to means test applicants. Banks also needed to get on board to help ease the burden on householders.

Diversification in agriculture meant farmers could ensure sustainable food production while generating renewable energy and helping to decarbonise, she added.

Tipperary Energy Agency director Marie Donnelly said the clean energy package agreed in Europe was a game-changer as every EU citizen now had a right enshrined in legislation to be able to produce renewable energy; to use it, store it and sell it.

Farmers had an essential role to play as there was a potential for 30 per cent of future bioenergy needs to come from farms, she said, helping to replace fossil fuels. Currently, Ireland was spending €6 billion annually in importing oil and gas. But it was not going to be acceptable that raw materials – biomass – would come from Canada or the Middle East. “They have to be grown locally and used locally.”

Teagasc energy specialist Barry Caslin said farmers were supporting the rolling out of solar panels on their farms and buildings but there was they were unable to get connection to the power grid and to get paid for it, which was possible in most EU countries. In addition, by embracing anaerobic digester technology and biogas production, they could help curb methane emissions, but subventions were essential, he added.

IFA renewable committee chairman Tom Short said bioenergy and food production could go hand in hand. Farmers wanted to make their contribution to reducing carbon emissions beyond increasing efficiencies on their holdings. “People on the ground are tired from trying to making a living in food production. . . It’s the one sector that can make a difference [in reducing carbon], but it won’t happen without significant support.”