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// Debate on Ireland's biofuel scheme hots up
WITH US BIOFUEL subsidies threatening to spark a trade war between the EU and the US, questions have emerged over Ireland's current biofuels policy.
Under the current excise relief scheme for "green" fuel, 16 companies including well-known firms such as Irish Food Processors, One51, Topaz Energy, Maxol and Cooley Clearpower are eligible for excise relief - effectively subsidies - totaling EUR213 million between 2006 and 2010.
Although Maxol produce the majority of bioethanol - made from milk whey - for the Irish market in 2007, a spokeswoman for the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) confirmed that other firms are importing bioethanol.
Therefore Irish taxpayers are subsidising imported biofuel produced from foreign sugar cane. It isn't known if this sugar cane is grown using sustainable methods and ethical labour practices.
A spokesperson at One51 confirmed that they are currently importing bioethanol made from sugar cane, adding that it is sourced through reputable traders in Europe.
Far more sustainable current sources of biofuel, such as cooking oil and animal fat, do exist, and figures from the Department indicate that Irish Food Processors is the largest such producer. According to figures submitted to the EU State Aid division, the DCENR has budgeted for subsidies of EUR25.59 million per year between 2008 and 2010 for bioethanol, and EUR20.09 million per year for EN59O biodiesel.
The issue over excise relief scheme is that it is an expensive way of reducing carbon emissions. Over its five years, it should save 1.2 million tonnes of CO2, at a cost of EUR177 per tonne. However, at current prices it would cost just EUR26 per tonne to buy credits to offset those emissions.
Further apparent flaws in the policy are highlighted in the Bioenergy Action Plan published by then Energy Minister Noel Dempsey in 2006.
It states that it will be "an acknowledged challenge" to meet the EU target of substituting 5.75 per cent of fossil fuels with biofuels produced here in 2010.
The target would mean covering huge swathes of the countryside with a dazzling vast yellow blanket of oilseed rape grown to produce biodiesel. This plan would demand 50 per cent more of current farmland under all cropshaving to be devoted to oilseed rape.
Meeting the EU's 10 per cent target for 2020 is even more unlikely. It "would almost certainly involve importing biofuel feedstock or ready blended biofuel," the report adds.
According to the DCENR, Minister Eamon Ryan is preparing to launch a public consultation next month on a new national biofuel scheme.
"I have long stated that biofuels are necessary as contingency in relation to security of fuel supply but that we can not allow their development to create food security issues," said Ryan.
Irish Times 9.06.08