The promotion of wood as a viable alternative energy source must be a key objective of the Government if Ireland is to meet its Kyoto targets, a conference was told yesterday.
The Sustainable Energy Ireland/COFORD conference heard that the development of a wood fuel industry would have major economic and strategic benefits.
"It would replace our overdependence on imported fossil fuels while creating sustainable rural jobs, in addition to its primary purpose
of reducing CO2 emissions", Mr Joe Carroll of the National Council for Forest Research and Development (COFORD) said.
He said recent SEI studies had shown that the cost-benefit of forest enterprise to the State would be enhanced where carbon storage value
was recognised and where forestry and saw milling residue could substitute for fossil fuel energy.
An interdepartmental bioenergy strategy group, established by the Minister of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, will make clear recommendations to the Department on how the Government can best realise the potential of wood biomass to contribute to renewable energy and emission reductions target.
Wood currently supplies some 15 per cent of the world's energy demand, and despite the vast potential, Ireland's contribution is less than 1 per cent.
Speakers from other European countries indicated that it was only through concerted government policies to promote renewable energy alternatives, such as biomass, that these alternative industries have proved viable.
Mr Gottfried Lamers, of Austria's Ministry of Agriculture, said the promotion of renewable energy was considered a key priority in his
country where more than [euro]35 million is committed annually to renewables.
Meanwhile, Mr Conor Casey, energy consultant, said the Irish hospitality sector could also make significant savings on its annual energy bill of 21 million. Large hotels and accommodation centres, he argued, should invest in biomass technology.
"Wood energy can provide certainty of supply and certainty in price. This is an important message for commercial and industrial customers who are currently exposed to the fluctuations in the world energy markets.
"As demand approaches the capacity to supply, in world energy markets the price of traditional fuels will continue to escalate," he said.
The conference also heard that Ireland has one of the best growing conditions in the northern hemisphere for biomass. Accord to SEI, the forestry industry and the farming community are well equipped for biomass production and its conversion to renewable energy.