An Taisce Response to An Bord Pleanála Refusal of Permission for Co. Offaly Peat-Biomass Electricity Plant

23rd July 2019
Press Release

An Taisce is seeking the immediate intervention of Minister for Communications Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton to respond to the An Bord Pleanála refusal of the Shannonbridge peat and biomass electricity plant. As we have done for more than five years [1], An Taisce calls on the Minister to initiate an Action Plan in energy efficiency and support programmes for the future employment of ESB and Bord Na Móna peat power plant workers and suppliers in the midlands.

This decision by An Bord Pleanála strongly indicates that the state appointed boards and senior management of the ESB and Bord Na Móna simply do not have a competent strategy in place to meet the converging global Climate and Biodiversity Emergency. In its assessment of the project An Bord Pleanála stated that the proposal “... [which is] dependent primarily on the burning of a fuel imported into the facility needs to be associated and aligned with strategic energy management, planning and renewable energy policies and plans to achieve balanced, orderly and sustainable development.”

The main An Bord Pleanála refusal grounds were:

  • Inadequate information on indirect impact on the European nature conservation.

  • Designated River Shannon and other rivers in the continued peat extraction catchment area.

  • Inadequacy of the indigenous biomass supply in the State to serve the development, and consequent high dependence on imported biomass contrary to European Union and national policy.

  • Lack of information or transparency on the location or impact of the biomass proposed to be sourced for progressive substitution for peat fuel.

  • The inadequate road network and local impact on the village centre of Shannonbridge on delivery of huge quantities of biomass to the plant.

Both the ESB and Bord an Móna have had ample time to advance a practical strategy to transition the midlands from destructive peat burning to employment in the sustainable energy transition. Instead, they have pursued an ill-conceived approach focussing on biomass co-firing without adequate consideration of the demanding sustainability criteria required for such biomass supply. This was clearly illustrated by the revelation earlier this month that Bord an Móna is importing forest material from Australia, which appears contrary to the EU renewable energy directive sustainability recommendations. Bord Na Móna also refused to release detailed information about the source of their biomass, recently rejecting a media Access to Information on the Environment request.

A fundamental review of the remit of the ESB and Bord na Móna, along with their board structures, is now required to ensure pro-active implementation of a just and sustainable energy transition strategy.

The European Commission has published information on a range of EU and European Investment Bank supports, designed to support energy efficiency and new investment in regions where retraining for new employment in sustainable energy is required [2]. For the Irish midlands this could include major local community supported energy efficiency programme for dwellings, training ESB and Bord na Móna employees in e.g., insulation, retrofitting and renewable power sourced electric heat pump installation.

An Taisce would endorse the comments made by Prof John FitzGerald, chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, who stated: “It is crazy that we are subsidising peat-fired electricity, which is a major contribution of CO2 and a very ineffective and expensive way of producing electricity” [3]. FitzGerald added that the annual state subsidy in peat-generated electricity amounted to €100,000 for each job, or twice the average salary of a Bord Na Móna worker.

CONTACTS

Ian Lumley, Advocacy Officer, An Taisce, mobile: 083 153 2384 John Gibbons, PRO, climate change committee: 087 233 2689

NOTES

[1] An Taisce July 2014 Submission to the Green Paper on Energy Policy in Ireland. “Any subsidy (referred to above) would be much better spent up-skilling employees to undertake home energy saving enhancements. Subsidies to peat-burning power stations have been rising steadily since the mid-2000s and now stand at €60 - €80 million per year. These subsidies, which were introduced in 2001 and are set to run to 2019 (in the case of two of Ireland’s three peat-burning power plants), will amount to far more than half a billion euro by 2019. If it cost €35,000 to up skill an employee at a peat plant (or someone in the associated supply chain), then the up skilling of 700 direct / indirect employees would incur a once-off cost of €24.5m. Based on a good quality home-energy retrofit costing €35,000, then 1,000 homes year could be enhanced for €35 million. The foresight to embrace such an annual programme would, after a number of years, see more energy saved than is generated by the peat-burning plants annually.” http://www.antaisce.org/articles/energy-saving-ireland%E2%80%99s-new-fuel-submission-green-paper-energy-policy

[2] European Commission: Financing Energy Efficiency https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/energy-efficiency/financing-energy-efficiency

[3] ‘Crazy’ to subsidise peat-fired electricity, says Chair of Climate Change Advisory Council. https://greennews.ie/crazy-subsidise-peat-fired-electricity-says-leading-climate-economist/

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Since Ireland adopted the Rio Declaration in 1992, strategic planning should have been initiated to phase out peat extraction and burning for energy, whether for power generation or domestic heating as well as peat for horticulture. The preparation of Ireland’s first climate strategy followed the Kyoto protocol coming into effect in 1997. The expert advice already then was that peat burning for electricity should be phased out by 2008. Instead the combination of a poorly grounded argument for energy security combined with a political focus on maintaining midlands employment led to the building of 3 new power stations: at Edenderry and replacing older plants at Shannonbridge Co Offaly and Lanesborough Co Longford. Both of the latter were appealed by An Taisce on Greenhouse Gas emission grounds. Permissions were granted by An Bord Pleanála in 2004 for a 15 year life, up to the end of 2019. The operation of the plants was subject to the application of a Public Service Obligation (PSO) Levy (subsidy) on the electricity consumer running up to 70 million euro annually.