According to Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) senior policy officer, Chris Osborne, Northern Ireland’s land-based sector now produces enough renewable energy on a consistent basis to power up to 150,000 homes.
“With energy prices hitting record levels, I have been inundated by calls from local farmers this year wanting to know more about the viability of installing solar PV on their farm buildings,” he explained.
“With on-farm energy costs hitting record levels, landowners are taking a different look at how renewables could be introduced to their farms, with more focus on self-sufficiency.
The UFU said it has long advocated the integration of small-scale renewable generation in the drive towards better energy efficiency, with the majority of the energy produced being used on farms.
The long-awaited Northern Ireland Energy Strategy was launched nine months ago and to date, it has provided no indication as to what future support for small-scale renewables would look like, according to the union.
“Yet, we are being challenged to get 80% of the electricity generated from renewables,” Osborne continued.
“With the cost-of-living crisis and pressure on agriculture to adapt to climate change, the first step for government should be to establish the development of a support framework which could enable homes, businesses, farms and communities to install renewable generation for their own consumption and receive a payment for any residual electricity they export to the grid.
“Compare and contrast this to what is happening in the Republic of Ireland. Here such a support framework was approved in late 2021.”
The Irish Micro-generation Support Scheme (MSS) in the Republic of Ireland aims to help homes and businesses develop renewable energy.
It is targeting support for 380MW of installed microgeneration capacity, to contribute to the target of up to 2.5GW of solar renewables under their own legislative target.
Depending on panel size, that equates to over one million solar panels, on approximately 70,000 buildings.
Furthermore, one of the key parts to the MSS is the Clean Export Guarantee (CEG) tariff.
“The CEG allows participants to receive remuneration from their electricity supplier for all excess renewable electricity exported to the grid,” the union representative continued.
“The price paid (per kWh) will be a competitive market rate from their electricity supplier.
“Crucially, CEG will be available to both new and existing small-scale generators up to 400kW, subject to the eligibility criteria set by a regulator and applicants will need to have a suitable network export grid connection and a smart meter.”
From a Northern Ireland perspective, the UFU believes that support is crucial for the sustainable roll-out of small-scale renewables regardless of the current energy price.
According to the union, such a development would spur buy-in from participants but would also act to grease the economics of operation, as the projected break-even period would be shortened with some form of assistance.
“Another area where support is needed is planning,” Osborne further explained.
“Currently in Northern Ireland, the planning process for small-scale renewables is in need of a drastic overhaul and the UFU will be pressing for more permitted development rights for small-scale solar and easier planning permission process for larger on-farm projects.
“Micro/small-scale renewables can play a key role in empowering and driving forward engagement and participation in energy transition across Northern Ireland.
“It creates opportunities for domestic, community, farming and small commercial customers to take the first steps towards investment in renewable technologies, which can play a role in shaping electricity demand and decarbonising homes and businesses,” he concluded.