The Government must provide more certainty on solar energy so that its potential to assist in meeting emissions targets and in improving farm incomes can be realised, according to IFA president Joe Healy.
Mr Healy's comments came in the same week as a €30m solar farm project was being proposed at Leonard's Bog, Derrymore, Roscrea.
The proposal for the 148-acre site that would house 119,000 solar panels has already attracted opposition.
Although up to 15,000 acres of farmland in Ireland are under some form of solar contract, Mr Healy told a seminar in Portlaoise a number of crucial questions remain to be addressed, particularly regarding the feed-in-tariff to be applied to solar generated energy, grid connection, farm scale projects, and community participation in solar development projects.
“The European Commission will this week set out Ireland’s emission reduction targets to be delivered by the year 2030 for the non-ETS sector, which includes farming. Solar energy has significant mitigation potential that could assist us in reaching those targets. The Government must come forward with greater policy certainty to facilitate this, as well as to deliver on our 2020 renewable energy obligations, on which we are currently falling short,”said Mr Healy.
The IFA leader said that the use of farmland for solar PV could supplement and strengthen farm incomes, providing some level of guaranteed income to allow farmers to hedge against the severe income volatility that is more evident now than ever before.
However, he said that more clarity was needed around solar development so farm families can make informed decisions as to whether it represented a real opportunity to diversify their farm enterprises and maximise the income they generate from their farms.
“Solar energy projects have to work for the farmer, for his or her neighbours, and the wider community. Developer driven renewable projects must end if we are to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated,” Joe Healy said.
James Murphy, IFA Renewables chairman emphasised that while there are good reasons to be optimistic about solar energy in Ireland, farmers should exercise caution in signing up to any agreement.