ESB International coal contract criticised at UN climate conference

Campaigners urge Government to cancel contract to run Phillippines power station

The Government should cancel a 10-year contract won by ESB International to run a new coal-fired electricity power station in the Philippines, environmental campaigners have demanded.

The ESB subsidiary signed a contract last December with the Philippines' largest electricity supplier, Manila Electric Company, to run the Atimonan power plant, once it is built in Quezon province.

However, environmental campaigners, speaking on the margins of a major United Nations climate change conference in Katowice in Poland, are now lobbying Dublin to back away from the deal.

The Government should cancel the contract since Ireland is a member of the international "Power Past Coal Alliance", which pledges to stop burning coal for electricity.


The Atimonan project is being fought by a range of civil-society organisations in the Philippines, which remains committed to coal-burning even it is suffering the detrimental effects of climate change.

"We cannot allow our communities to suffer from the double whammy of coal-fired power plant projects that come in the form of negative health and environmental impacts," said Ian Rivera of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, who is attending the UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland.

In a letter this week to Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton, he urged the Government to honour its commitment to phase out existing unabated coal power generation and to support clean power generation through its policies.


Part of Ireland's commitment to climate action and decarbonisation is the planned shutdown of the Moneypoint coal-burning plant by 2025, said Ian Lumley of An Taisce. "However, ESB International, a State-owned company subsidiary under the Minister's direct control, is providing the engineering and project-management services for a new 1,200 megawatt coal-fired power plant in the Philippines," he said.

“The damage caused by this proposed project is undermining international solidarity on climate action and decarbonisation of energy eclipses the increased climate funding announced [at the UN summit] by the Minister”, said Mr Lumley, who also attending the COP24 conference.

“You cannot on the one hand promote an ‘all-of-Government’ approach to climate action while on the other allow State companies to pursue contracts to operate coal-fired power plants that damage the health and well-being of local communities while contributing to spiralling global carbon emissions.”

Mr Bruton said he was not aware of the project, its context and the extent of involvement by ESB International. Every country had to determine its course in response to climate but in the context of Ireland, he said there was no point in wagging fingers at others “particularly when we use coal”.

The Minister added: “The direction of travel is absolutely clear. We need to get out of coal. We need to see a reduction in fossil fuel demand.”

He cited the case of Katowice where coal was very much part of the local economy. In such a context, “Ireland should show empathy to others and support a process of change, rather than dictating or lecturing to others.”

The decision to build the Atimonan power plant and its fuel mix in the Philippines would be made by the Philippine authorities, an ESB spokeswoman said. “ESB International does not have any influence or input in those decisions.”

As a global international energy consultancy company in many countries, ESB International provided its expertise “to support environmental compliance and deliver the safe and reliable power systems which underpin modern economies and societies”.

ESB International agreed the contract in 2017 to operate and manage the power plant on behalf of Meralco PowerGen Corporation, she confirmed.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times