Bright idea, but grants to generate on-farm solar power ‘lack ambition’

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A budget hike on grant aid for on-farm solar installations is set to kick-start a surge in investment by farmers in renewable technology.

he Agriculture Minister announced that farmers will be able to claim grants of up to 60pc of the cost of solar panels on their sheds through the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS).

It represents a 50pc hike in government support at a time when higher energy costs are starting to bite in the sector.

However, industry experts point to the ongoing limit on the size of the installation imposed on the majority of Irish farmers as “ridiculous”.

“Over 90pc of Ireland’s farmers are beef, dairy or cereal growers,” said the chairman of the Micro Renewable Energy Federation, Pat Smith.

“These currently qualify for funding up to 11kW, which is only equivalent to about 500 square feet. That’s a fraction of the amount of roof space most farmers have available for this type of technology and is totally inadequate for commercial farms,” he said.

Currently, pig, poultry and horticultural producers have been able to avail of 40pc grants on solar installations up to a maximum of €200,000 in spend through TAMS.

Mr Smith also highlighted the huge delays in the Government’s long- awaited plan to allow small renewable energy installations to get paid by the ESB for the surplus energy they generate. Currently, surplus power is ‘spilled’ into the network, resulting in free power for the national grid.

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) president Dermot Kelleher said that while he welcomed increased grants for solar panels for farmers, the problem was still that the micro-generation scheme lacks ambition.

“The vast majority of farmers will not self-consume enough electricity even though they have a lot of shed roof space,” he said.

“Beef farmers could supply a lot of solar energy to the grid if there was a commercially viable rate for selling surplus power but government policy is not enabling this. Installation grants do not solve this problem.”

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan, promised a new scheme setting payment rates for micro-­generation from people’s homes and businesses earlier this year.

However, with high electricity prices predicted for the immediate future, industry sources believe that there will be strong interest in renewable energy installations on foot of the enhanced incentives.

One kilowatt of solar panels costs approximately €1,000 to install, and can generate up to 1,000 kilowatt hours annually, worth approximately €200 at current daytime rates.

With a grant of 60pc, the payback could be as fast as two years, if all of the power is consumed within the business.