Mr Ian Paisley, MP for North Antrim, visited the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) Hillsborough in late December 2013. The purpose of his visit was to avail of AFBI expertise regarding the growth potential for biomass energy generation in Northern Ireland. His key objective was to determine the opportunities for local business and employment in this expanding agri-environment sector.
Key topics covered during the visit included: agricultural sustainability; climate change; land sourced renewable; and the extent to which the agricultural production of biomass crops had been adopted. With a backdrop of increasing uptake of biomass technology, partially stimulated by Renewable Obligation Certificates and Renewable Heat Initiatives, Mr Paisley’s main concern was where all this biomass would ultimately come from, given the relatively low level of forestation in the province (and indeed across the island). The advice from the AFBI scientists was that a significant quantity of our future biomass requirements for energy generation was expected to come from importation. This was consistent with recent media claims that imports will form a major part of our future biomass requirements in order to “keep the lights on”.
Mr Paisley was also very supportive of the concept that local agricultural biomass production would have an important and continuing role for the sustainable supply of biomass for the small to medium scale heat generation. In such systems the quality of the wood chip is very important and AFBI’s research and support for this sector has helped develop short rotation coppice (SRC) willow biomass production and supply chains to increasingly become a more vital part of our energy supply services.
Mr Paisley was equally eager to promote any opportunities for local businesses to take the lead in the expected need for biomass production outside of Northern Ireland and to capture the profits and benefits of any future importation trade for the local economy. Chris Johnston presented an AFBI vision of a developing bioenergy sector in Northern Ireland with opportunities for the ethical and sustainable production of SRC biomass crops in other countries. In his opinion, such enterprises could benefit both the country of production and Northern Ireland by providing increased fuel security locally and employment opportunities in both countries.
Mr Paisley concluded the meeting by stating that AFBI expertise would be pivotal in assisting local entrepreneurs to achieve these objectives. As part of his continuing support for local business interests in this area, he was eager to promote ever closer links between the Renewable Energy Centre at AFBI Hillsborough and the private sector.