Energy minister Pat Rabbitte has indicated that the State can do little to progress markets for miscanthus, on which about 300 farmers depend.
The farmers have invested significantly in growing almost 6,000 acres of miscanthus, benefiting from national and EU grant aid totalling more than €4m since 2007.
However, they now fear there will be no market outlet for their harvested miscanthus crop.
Mr Rabbitte has said a contact between growers and JHM Crops Ltd is at present not rewarding the company for the costs involved. JHM Crops organises the farmers and transports the miscanthus to a Bord na Móna plant in the Midlands.
“It is a very difficult issue when it comes down to a private commercial contract entered into between two parties and the role of the State in this is minimal, if it exists at all,” said Mr Rabbitte.
“Miscanthus and other energy crops can be used as a fuel in both the heating and electricity sectors. While miscanthus has certain advantages over other energy crops in respect of returns, I understand it is not suitable for all applications and its high chlorine content can cause corrosion in some boilers. It also is bulky and expensive to transport and therefore, the economics work better when the plantations are close to where it is required.
“As a result, the market for miscanthus is limited at present. I understand that most of the miscanthus is used for co-firing with peat at one of the power plants in the Midlands. I also understand that a small proportion is processed into heat logs and used in the heat sector. However, I believe that, as new biomass plants supported by REFIT 3 come online, this will create further demand for energy from biomass and miscanthus may have a role to play in contributing to meeting Ireland’s renewable energy targets.
“There are issues relating to the merits of miscanthus compared to willow, what miscanthus does to the plant, the chlorine problem that arises and so on but that is neither here nor there.
“It seems difficult to see where either the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine or my department can intrude to force Bord na Móna to do something if it thinks it is not in line with the contract or with its own commercial interests. There is a dispute as to what happened when the original contract came into being.”
REFIT 3 is the Government scheme to promote the use of renewable energy from biomass. But Mr Rabbitte said: “Even were Bord na Móna to enter REFIT 3 in six months’ time, the difference would not be adequate to maintain any kind of viable margin for JHM Crops.”
According to Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan, miscanthus growers are located in nearly every community, but particularly in his own Cork North-West constituency, and in west Limerick.
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