WDC gets €1 million to Develop Wood Energy Sector in Western Region

Western Region’s wood resources present new enterprise and job opportunities

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has secured European Union (EU) funding of €1 million to develop the wood energy sector in the Western Region. The funding, part of a wider EU three-year €2.8 million project, will support farmers, rural enterprises and rural communities to expand the wood heat sector. The funding was announced by Éamon Ó Cuív, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs at the National Ploughing Championships in Athy.

Mr Ó Cuív said, “I welcome this funding to help develop the wood energy sector. Part of the WDC’s work is to ensure that the Western Region captures the value of its abundant natural resources and the renewable energy sector is a key area for economic growth. As a source of energy, wood is very feasible for people living in rural areas and the project will increase deployment of renewable energy technologies in rural economies, resulting in a range of economic impacts including the creation and retention of employment, and the piloting of new business concepts and products. The increased renewable energy uptake will impact positively on regional competitiveness, innovation and diversification of economic activity in rural areas.”

Ian Branigan, Development Manager at the WDC said, “Renewable energy is a key area of potential for economic growth, and although the Western Region has 40% of Ireland’s wood resources, the wood energy market is underdeveloped compared to international levels. This project will provide training, advice and support to farmers, small farming businesses and private forest owners to help convert their forestry resources into enterprises that generate revenue and job opportunities.”

“Our research has shown that, up to now, there have been some barriers to growing the market for wood fuel including low levels of market confidence, lack of information about the market and limited technical and business skills. The EU funding will allow us to actively tackle these issues to ultimately increase the use of renewable energy technologies in rural economies,” he added.

The project, Regional Approaches to Stimulating Local Renewable Energy Solutions (RASLRES), will receive total funding of €2.8 million, under the EU INTERREG Northern Periphery Programme, which includes international partners from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, Finland and the Faroe Islands. The WDC, as the project’s lead partner, has secured €1 million for Ireland’s Western Region covering counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare.

Bernadette Phelan, Regional Development Executive at the WDC explained, “A lot of the forestry plantations in the west were planted during the 1980s and 1990s. This resource is therefore at an age suitable for first and subsequent thinnings so the project is very timely. Developing the wood energy market will create a market for these forestry thinnings and will encourage farmers to actively manage their forestry which in the long run results in a better timber harvest when the trees are fully mature.”

Ms Phelan says that a critical characteristic of wood energy is that it consists of ‘local loops’ of demand and supply in defined geographic areas. These ‘local loops’ typically have high level of indigenous activity and thereby retain a high percentage of profits locally. She says that as an economic activity the sector is firmly tied to the regional economy in which both the natural resource (the fuel) and the market is located.

The project will include an awareness and information campaign to highlight the opportunities for fuel producers as well as information for end users about the advantages of using wood energy. “For schools, hospitals, hotels and factories, the project will provide impartial advice and expertise on the feasibility of using wood to supply their energy requirements,” she added.

”We are presently finalising the details with our international partners and the EU INTERREG Secretariat and the project’s new website will go live in the coming weeks. By early 2010 we will start to roll out the various support services to the region’s wood energy sector and we will publish information in the local media about how people can get involved. Ultimately the success of the project will hinge on the involvement of the farm forestry sector and end-users working in cooperation with us,” she said.

As the sector develops, other beneficiaries will include forestry contractors, haulage companies for transporting wood fuel from source to end-user, and plumbers, engineering and electrical contractors who install boilers and fuel storage systems such as fuel silos, bunkers and handling systems.

The funding evolved from the strategic regional wood energy project which the WDC has led since 2007 when it brought together public and private stakeholders to develop a long term plan. It has worked closely with Údarás na Gaeltachta, Teagasc, Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources as well as private forest owners and local communities.

WDC research shows that the West could develop an indigenous, sustainable, renewable energy resource delivering 11% of the regions’ heat needs by 2020 and create up to 900 additional jobs. To deliver 11% of the region’s heat needs would require over 470,000 tonnes of wood fuel, generate an additional €15 million to the economy and provide €1.7 million to the west’s farming sector each year. The jobs created would be spread across the entire supply chain from private forest owners, to haulage companies, to plumbing, engineering, and electrical companies. Additionally the estimated CO2 emissions saved annually would equate to taking over 92,000 cars off the roads in the west of Ireland.

Ms Phelan concluded by saying that as well as the economic benefits and job creation opportunities, the development of the wood energy sector will increase awareness of the carbon economy and environmentally sensitive behaviours – for both individuals and enterprises – including the wider use of green technologies which benefits the economy as well as the environment.

People wishing to find out more about the project can contact Bernadette Phelan, Regional Development Executive, WDC, Tel: 094 986 1441, email bernadettephelan@wdc.ie.

Ends

For further information please contact:

Bernadette Phelan, Development Executive, WDC, 086 834 0279
or
Angela Bane, Bane Mullarkey, 087 286 5217