Warm­ing to the task

Gur­teen Agri­cul­tural Col­lege has slashed its heat­ing bills by 400pc since con­vert­ing to re­new­able en­ergy sources, re­ports

Irish Independent - Farming - - NEWS -

TEN years ago Michael Pear­son made a cal­cu­lated de­ci­sion on the po­ten­tial of re­new­able en­ergy in a farm­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

The prin­ci­pal of Gur­teen Agri­cul­tural Col­lege in Tip­per­ary looked at the €100,000 per an­num bill for the col­lege heat­ing sys­tem and de­cided there had to be a bet­ter and more cost-ef­fec­tive way of keep­ing the place warm.

“The Gov­ern­ment had found grant money from the EU for en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and we took the de­ci­sion to do as much as we pos­si­bly could at that time be­cause I thought that it made per­fect sense when the sums were added up,” he said.

“We had a peat burn­ing boiler which was near the end of its time. We priced what it was go­ing to cost to put an oil burner in and the quote was €100,000 a year for the oil.

“Go­ing the biomass route re­duced the an­nual heat­ing cost to €20,000 — it was a pru­dent in­vest­ment.

“When we in­stalled two biomass boil­ers, we de­cided to grow our own sup­ply of biomass so we planted 30 hectares of wil­low, in­stalled a dry­ing plant and we now sup­ply about 80pc of our heat­ing needs from that wil­low field,” he said.

Har­vest­ing and dry­ing the wil­low costs €10,000 per an­num and this is topped up by bought in tim­ber cost­ing €10,000, mean­ing the col­lege is now sav­ing €80,000 on its heat­ing bills.

“If that is not sound eco­nom­ics I don’t know what is,” said Mr Pear­son. The col­lege has also in­stalled a wind tur­bine and a few weeks ago a so­lar sys­tem was com­mis­sioned and more ideas for en­ergy ef­fi­ciency are be­ing planned.

“The 50kW so­lar pan­els can be in­stalled for €50,000, and with the 50pc SEAI grant there is a pay­back of four years, while the main­te­nance costs are much lower than for the tur­bine so we have com­mis­sioned a so­lar sys­tem on the roof of the equine build­ing,” he said.

A new milk­ing par­lour is be­ing planned to re­place the old sys­tem on the farm. “We are go­ing to make sure that it is as en­ergy ef­fi­cient as we can eco­nom­i­cally af­ford it to be,” he said.

“We will be look­ing at heat re­cov­ery from the milk, for wa­ter heat­ing, and so­lar pan­els on the roof to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity to op­er­ate the unit.

“If we can we will be look­ing at vari­able speed mo­tors for ef­fi­cient use of the elec­tric­ity,” he said.

“Be­cause wil­low is a non food crop, we are also look­ing at the po­ten­tial for the dis­posal of waste prod­ucts from the brew­ing in­dus­try which can be used as a fer­tiliser for the wil­low crop.”

Given this pi­o­neer­ing work on switch­ing from fos­sil fu­els to re­new­ables, the col­lege was an ap­pro­pri­ate venue for last week’s En­ergy in Agri­cul­ture con­fer­ence jointly or­gan­ised by Tea­gasc, Tip­per­ary En­ergy Agency, Gur­teen Col­lege, Tip­per­ary County Coun­cil and the IFA, with spon­sor­ship from SEAI, Bord na Mona, and Gas Net­works Ire­land. The huge un­tapped po­ten­tial of re­new­able en­ergy in farm­ing was the big theme of the day.

“De­spite many pi­o­neer­ing ef­forts in the past. The po­ten­tial of agri­cul­tural en­ergy sys­tems really re­mains largely un­tapped,” said Tea­gasc en­ergy spe­cial­ist Barry Caslin.

“The in­come pro­vided by en­ergy pro­duc­tion will in­crease the re­silience of Ir­ish farm­ers. It will also pro­vide mul­ti­ple co-ben­e­fits, from in­creas­ingly rare man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs in Ire­land to car­bon sav­ings and slurry man­age­ment.

“We need to find bet­ter ways to recog­nise and to re­ward non-en­ergy ben­e­fits of farm scale en­ergy sys­tems.”

His com­ments were echoed by Kilkenny-based farmer and IFA re­new­ables chair­man James Mur­phy. “Farm-based en­ergy pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to strengthen the re­la­tion­ship be­tween farm­ers and their com­mu­ni­ties through mech­a­nisms such as shared own­er­ship and jointly-con­structed com­mu­nity en­ergy plans,” he said.

“We need to break down the bar­ri­ers that are sti­fling in­vest­ment in sus­tain­able farm based en­ergy and de­velop a sup­port­ive reg­u­la­tory, plan­ning and fi­nan­cial en­vi­ron­ment.”

Min­is­ter for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Cli­mate Ac­tion and the En­vi­ron­ment De­nis Naugh­ten told the con­fer­ence that pro­pos­als for a Re­new­able Heat In­cen­tive (RHI) scheme will be brought to gov­ern­ment in Septem­ber.

He said he was deter­mined to make sure the RHI ben­e­fits lo­cal farm­ers.

A series of an­nounce­ments on RHI will be made be­tween now and the Plough­ing Cham­pi­onships.

While wel­com­ing the an­nounce­ment, Michael Pear­son said the pro­pos­als must be “farmer-friendly” and demon­strate tan­gi­ble re­turns.

“There has to be a re­al­is­tic in­cen­tive for farm­ers to con­vert land to forestry and wil­low and the ‘for­ever’ stip­u­la­tion on land go­ing into forestry has to be re­moved if bet­ter land is to be planted.

“If I have forestry that has ma­tured and been har­vested, why should I have to put that back into forestry again? Why not have the right to re­turn it to farm­land if that is what I want to do.”

DE­SPITE MANY PI­O­NEER­ING EF­FORTS IN THE PAST, THE PO­TEN­TIAL OF AGRI EN­ERGY SYS­TEMS RE­MAINS LARGELY UN­TAPPED

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