Irish forestry agency wary of going it alone, wants help

1 Jun 2017

Image: Jordi C/Shutterstock

As the value of the Irish forestry industry grows, Coillte is looking for partners to help get it through the next decade.

We don’t know yet how much forest cover there is in the world. That might seem amazing, considering we have such detailed satellite footage of the planet, but, as recently as this month, we ‘found’ 9pc more forest cover on the planet.

Whether that is quality or not, it’s part of one of the biggest industries in the world. It’s no different in Ireland, with Coillte, the state agency for forestry, keen to maximise its offering over the coming 10 years.

In a bid to do this, Coillte wants help, it wants partners, it wants support. Given the cost of building a renewable energy grid, financial supplements make sense.

“As a board, we have made a decision that this is not something that we feel that we should be doing on our own,” said Fergal Leamy, CEO of Coillte, in the Irish Independent.

“We feel that the opportunity is huge here. To partner with somebody, we’re going to maximise the value but we’re also going to manage the risk from our company perspective as well.

The focus on renewables in Ireland has hit new highs in forestry. In February, two initiatives from the European Investment Bank (EIB) emerged to support the industry in the country.

Firstly, a €90m fund was created as a support for forestry-related investment in Ireland, with expected benefits to last two decades.

More than 35,000 hectares of trees will be replanted and more than 1,600km of forest roads will be constructed and upgraded. The scheme will also improve maintenance of 1,000km of walking routes and mountain bike trails.

Elsewhere, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) partnered with the EIB to support €112m of new investment in privately owned forests across Ireland.

Pan-European forest investment fund Dasos is at the centre of the agreement, with the EIB (investing €28.5m) and the ISIF (investing €55m) hoping that the rest of the money will come from other investors as the initiative progresses.

Only this week, Cork tech firm Treemetrics signed a €1.2m deal with the European Space Agency (ESA) to roll out a tree growth analytics system, including a unique tree sensor device.

The tree sensor has been designed to monitor minute increases in the plant’s growth. The solution creates a kind of mesh network that maps out a digital forest, and the resulting data is transmitted via satellite to provide real-time analytics for forest managers.

However, despite this innovation, Coillte’s interest in forests is not its total focus, with renewables in general, and wind farms in particular, the target.

“Longer-term, we don’t see ourselves as a utility company, we see ourselves as a developer of wind assets,” said Leamy.

“Part of this process, one way of financing might be to sell down one of the farms that we have already, and then reinvest it because there are quite attractive yields out there at the moment.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic