From Declan Breathnach, TD  24th May 2016

553. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the effect of the number of solar energy companies seeking to lease lands for energy production on the basic payment scheme in the future. [11683/16]

From Minister Michael Creed Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Support under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) is payable upon activation of an eligible hectare per payment entitlement. In general terms an eligible hectare is one that is used for an agricultural activity or, where the area is also used for a non-agricultural activity, is predominantly used for such activities. An area is predominantly used for agricultural activity if that activity can be exercised without being significantly hampered by the intensity, nature, duration and timing of the non-agricultural activity.

While cases involving solar panels will be examined on an individual basis, the European Commission has advised that the area covered by the solar panels will be deemed ineligible for the purposes of claiming BPS. Furthermore, in line with the Department’s current approach on land eligibility, where the area of a parcel covered by solar panels is 70% or greater of the overall parcel, that parcel will be wholly ineligible. If less than 70% is covered by solar panels and the agricultural activity is not hampered by the presence of the solar panels, the area not covered by solar panels may be eligible.

With regard to entitlements it is important to note that a farmer must use all entitlements at least once every 2 years. Therefore, if the land is deemed ineligible for BPS the farmer would lose the entitlements after 2 years unless he (a) got a comparable amount of eligible land to activate his entitlements, (b) leased out his entitlements or (c) sold the entitlements.

Finally it is important to note that all agricultural land used to claim BPS must be owned/leased, used and managed by the applicant. If the applicant is not the owner of the land, they must have a lease or rental agreement in place with the owner of the land. There must be independent and suitable access for animals and/or machinery for the farming enterprise being conducted. Independent access means access by public or private roadway or by a defined right of way. Access over adjoining landowners land, or over land which is subject to a lease or rental agreement to another person, is not acceptable.

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has informed me that before a final decision is taken on introducing a new support scheme – which may include support for solar PV – that Department will run a public consultation, which will give all interested parties an opportunity to participate in the development of the scheme. Details of the next public consultation will be advertised on their website . Before any such scheme could be introduced, it would have to secure Government approval and State aid clearance from the European Commission.