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Damien O'Reilly, EU Affairs & Communication Manager

The sign draping the side of one corner of the iconic Berlaymont EU Commission building here in Brussels advertises REPowerEU. It is a new plan with a double goal, to reduce the dependence on gas, oil and coal imports from Russia while at the same time accelerating the EUs ambitious climate action targets.

The clean energy transition can only be good news for hard pressed families struggling to pay astronomical home heating and electricity bills. So REPowerEU and all its armoury cannot come fast enough. Back home, ICOS is one of a few organisations working closely with its member co-ops looking at renewable opportunities, specifically in relation to biomethane to capitalise on this drive to a green transformation.  According to the SEAI, the percentage of renewables in 2021 in Ireland was 12.5%, significantly behind the European Union average where the overall renewables percentage stood at 21.8% according to Eurostat.

The EU has a target of 55% reduction in overall emissions by 2030 when compared to 2018. Every project has a fancy name or acronym here and this one is called ‘Fit for 55’. The revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) targets are for 45% renewable energy across the EU by 2030. In Ireland the target for biomethane is set at 10% of the country’s gas needs by 2030. “It appears that this will only be incentivised by way of a renewable heat obligation or RHO, obligating an increasing percentage of gas to come from renewable sources and letting market forces rather than a guaranteed tariff create a price floor for biomethane”, says John Brosnan bioeconomy executive with ICOS.

“Biomethane has a key role to play in the decarbonising of not only our energy sector, but it can also contribute to reducing emissions in the agri-food sector and to provide additional income to farmers”, according to John. This is where it gets interesting for farmers. John is driving communication between farmers and co-ops on the potential to develop the industry in Ireland. “ICOS are supportive of the development of anaerobic digestion and production of biomethane alongside other renewable sources which we support.” But says John Brosnan, “this cannot come at the expense of food and feed security, nor can farmers and co-ops be expected to bear all of the risk in embracing renewables with high up-front capital costs.”

Back in Brussels, as RePowerEU attempts to speed up the switch to renewable energy, Irish co-ops are perfectly positioned and equipped to drive the development of biorefining. Its a “win win” for farmers as an income source whilst playing a key role in meeting the EUs green targets. And hopefully the beginning of the end of dependence on Russian gas and oil. Watch this space.

By Damien O’Reilly

Letter from Brussels published in the Irish Farmers Monthly