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21/01/2009

Alternative Fuel Boosted

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Hard-pressed Northern Ireland home and business owners are turning to biomass fuel grown on local farms for a clean, green source of competitively priced energy.

Already over 50 willow growers province wide supply biomass energy to colleges, leisure centres, commercial and domestic premises.

Earlier this week, at the inaugural meeting of Biomass Energy Northern Ireland, (BENI), formed by farmers to promote the production and utilisation of biomass energy James Leslie of Ballymoney was elected the fledgling organisation's Chairperson.

"Through BENI growers aim to instil confidence in potential customers that we have made a very long-term commitment to growing willows as a secure source of biomass fuel," James affirmed.

"Willows are first coppiced three years after planting and two or three yearly thereafter for at least 20 years. It is an expensive crop to establish so farmers have to make a major investment, an investment already yielding dividends for growers and their customers," he explained.

"Growing willows is boosting our local economy as farmers gain an alternative enterprise outside food production and customers access a secure energy supply at a stable cost," he continued.

"Other forms of biomass such as forestry and its wastes may also be available and alternative sources such as fast-growing hardwoods and miscanthus are being evaluated."

Hosted by retailer IKEA Belfast the BENI meeting included a tour of the 1.2 MW Giles biomass boiler, fuelled by locally produced woodchips, heating the iconic store at Holywood Exchange.

Geoffrey Knipe, IKEA's NI facilities manager, said their Belfast biomass boiler had cut energy costs by £60,000 in a year.

"IKEA is committed to biomass energy not only for long-term cost savings, but to help address concerns about security of energy supplies and as a means of combating global climate change," he said.

"Using woodchips produced within a few miles of our store also allows IKEA to put money back into the Northern Ireland economy," he insisted.

Others using biomass energy include Cookstown Leisure Centre, Omagh FE College and the Woodbrook district heating scheme for 300 new homes in Brokerstown village at Lisburn.

(BMcC/JM)

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