ALTERNATIVE energy initiatives have the potential to create 5,000 new jobs in rural Ireland, it was claimed yesterday.
Labour Party spokesman on agriculture and food Seán Sherlock said there is huge potential for the domestic production of renewable and sustainable energy crops.
Bioenergy crops such as miscanthus may be used as fuel for the production of heat and electric power, or for conversion to other useful products such as ethanol.
The crop is normally harvested from year two onwards, but yields continue to improve until they level off around the fifth or sixth year.
Mr Sherlock said the greatest barrier to the development of on-farm energy enterprises is the lack of scale in the local market, which could be increased on the back of demand from the public sector.
“Take for example Cork County Council, which spends an estimated €17 million a year on energy costs, while the national spend is €600 million annually.
“From these figures one can see there is huge potential to stimulate the economy and create local employment,” he said.
Mr Sherlock said support structures and incentives must be put in place to enable local farmers to tap into this market. If the Government is committed to leading by example, now is the time to do this by living up to its commitments and increasing the use of renewable energy in local authorities, he said.
With the Government committed to a 33% improvement in energy efficiency in the public sector by 2020 under EU legislation, now is the time to embrace the “green revolution”, he added.
Mr Sherlock said serious consideration should also be given to proposals by the Irish Farmers’ Association for the conversion of public buildings from oil to wood chip heating systems.
Under the IFA’s Biomass Public Procurement Initiative, the Government would enter into energy supply contracts with the private sector.
These contracts would provide for the installation of biomass heating systems in all local authority buildings, the supply of biomass fuel at an agreed tariff and full system maintenance and service. It is estimated this could create up to 5,000 rural-based jobs.
“In the past decade alone agriculture in Ireland has changed dramatically. A new vision is needed.
“There is real potential to create thousands of sustainable jobs but investment is needed now if we are to tap into this potential growth market,” said Mr Sherlock.
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