Bord na Móna defends using peat to generate electricity until 2030

The company has been criticised for using a fuel that is expensive and ‘polluting the planet’

Bord na Móna’s exit from peat, including making briquettes, had to be carefully planned, head of business transformation Joe Lane said. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Bord na Móna’s exit from peat, including making briquettes, had to be carefully planned, head of business transformation Joe Lane said. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The semi-State energy company Bord na Móna has defended its plan to continue using peat for electricity generating up to 2030 in spite of its impact in generating large volumes of greenhouse gases, which are contributing to global warming.

Bord na Móna “clearly gets the message around climate change”, its head of business transformation Joe Lane insisted at the annual Environment Ireland conference at Croke Park.

The company’s attitude to peat burning was, however, criticised by other speakers.

The use of peat-fired electricity generation was expensive, in the form a fossil fuel subsidy – costing €120 million a year, added to consumers’ electricity bills – “and an awful way of polluting the planet,” said John FitzGerald, chairman of the Climate Change Advisory Council.

He was supported by Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan who said Ireland should end peat-burning electricity generation in the midlands and coal burning at Moneypoint power station much sooner.

Given their impact in generating polluting C02, it was “unsettling” to see a State company claiming its activities were sustainable in such circumstances when the planet was facing “its greatest crisis ever,” Mr Coghlan said.

Bord na Móna’s exit from peat, including making briquettes, had to be carefully planned taking into account its commitment to sustainability, commerciality and the communities where it operates, Mr Lane said.

The amount of peat used in power generation had been reduced from six million tons in 1990 to below 3.8 million tons this year.

In its Edenderry plant, it was now using sustainably-sourced biomass which was being used as a “co-fuel”.

The company was endeavouring to get biomass from indigenous sources and where it was imported from verifiably sustainable and ethical sources, he added.

Its commitment to sustainability meant it had not opened any new bogs since 2008, and was moving into the renewable energy sector including wind, solar, anaerobic digestion and waste to energy , Mr Lane said.

The major benefits of halting climate change would be felt by future generations, Mr FitzGerald said, but the financial costs of taking the necessary actions had to be borne by the current generation, which was why it was difficult for politicians to make necessary policy changes if Ireland was to decarbonise, he added.

The Government’s recently published National Mitigation Plan on climate change had more than “100 bright ideas but there’s no decisions”.

The emissions graph was going in the wrong direction and 2020 targets – “our targets which Ireland set itself” – would not be met, he added.

If Ireland was serious about 2030 targets, new policy initiatives were urgently needed.

It could “buy out”its failure to reach targets but would then be left with a bigger gap to bridge.

The EU’s carbon trading system had not worked, as proper market conditions were needed to ensure companies developing technology to generate cheaper electricity made money, compared to existing polluting technology.

Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten said Ireland faced unique challenges on climate change.

While “climate refugees” were considered in a global context, he cited the case of families in Roscommon living in the Shannon Callows who have to relocate because of recurrent flooding over the past 10 years.

The climate challenges would not be met, however, unless people were on board in terms of local impacts, rather than be unduly futuristic or fatalistic.

He cited the case of food waste in Ireland, which was creating a huge carbon footprint in the form of three tons produced every minute, required action across every section of society.

The average Irish family was throwing away €700 worth of food every year, and was confused by “sell-by” and “use-by” dates. This was why he had abolished flat-rate bin charges; to make people think about what they were dumping and putting into their food bin.

On illegal dumping, Mr Naughten said it was “economic and environmental treason” that undermined peoples’ pride of place.

This had prompted tighter regulations from his department, including the deployment of drones and covert surveillance to catch those responsible.

On plastic pollution, he said he was drawing up legislation to ban “microbeads” in personal products, household cleaning agents and detergents , and was supporting the introduction of a European ban.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director general Laura Burke said a lot of progress had been made over the past 20 years but “we are still losing much about what is positive, beautiful and economically valuable about the environment”. Enforcement was not about the EU imposing unnecessary or unreasonable measures, it was about “making sure – at a minimum –that the water we drink and the sea we swim in doesn’t make us sick”.

She added: “We also expect to be able to go for a walk in the mountains without encountering litter. But, as many EPA reports have shown, we can’t take this for granted.”