Cork farmer keeping up fight for renewable energy development

Michael Quirk believes farmers are key to meeting Ireland’s climate change targets

Michael Quirke: “it’s very hard to convince ordinary people” to embrace renewable energy “when it took me 12 years to build a windfarm”. Photograph: Larry Cummins

Michael Quirke: “it’s very hard to convince ordinary people” to embrace renewable energy “when it took me 12 years to build a windfarm”. Photograph: Larry Cummins

 

It took Michael Quirk 12 years to build a wind farm on his land in Cloyne, Co Cork, and since 2014 he has been attempting to establish an adjoining solar power development.

He admits to being frustrated by long delays and uncertainties, but he continues to be motivated by the belief that farmers can make a meaningful contribution in the national effort to tackle climate change.

That happens to be in tune with the requirements of UN sustainable-development goal number 13 – to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” – which Ireland has committed to, though the latest report on Ireland’s progress in implementing the goals singles out the lack of progress on this front.

Quirk believes agriculture can play a significant role in supplying renewable energy to help Ireland meet itsEuropean Union 2020 climate change targets in particular, but he says he doesn’t see much evidence of urgency in facilitating renewable energy projects in that regard.

He was reassured by a message from the Government about a new era of “community-led” renewable projects and talk of supports for “energy citizens” but that doesn’t tally with what’s happening on the ground, he says.

Serving the community

His proposal for a solar farm to serve his farming enterprise and the adjoining community of Cloyne awaits final connection to the national grid, though all the necessary infrastructure is in place and he has cleared planning and grid requirements.

He is a farmer wanting to do his bit, yet there is no certainty about a support price for him feeding solar power into the grid. He is concerned too about a proposed new auction process, where he believes he would have to compete with “crazy big” solar developers for power contracts, and be subject to demanding due diligence.

His plan to create a “hybrid energy park” is to optimise his power generation; the wind mainly blows at night, and the sun shines in the day. “For a guy like me with the infrastructure in place, it’s the most risk-free project,” he says – others have many other difficulties and additional costs due to planning and grid requirements.

He is grateful for all the support he has received, including the backing of an ethical bank in the UK which, he says, understands the difficulties he’s facing. The bank only lends money to charities, housing projects and renewable-energy developers.

He continues to work with the local community council with a view to supplying more renewable energy in Cloyne but he admits, “it’s very hard to convince ordinary people” to embrace renewable energy “when it took me 12 years to build a windfarm.”

It should be possible to reach key milestones for a project like his “within a reasonable period of time”.