Offaly plant refused permission to keep burning peat after 2020

Rejection of redevelopment to use biomass fuel casts doubt over 300 Bord na Móna jobs

The west Offaly power station, in Shannonbridge, Co Offaly, had sought permission to continue to burn peat past a December 2020 deadline until 2027, while it transitioned to rely on biomass fuel. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The west Offaly power station, in Shannonbridge, Co Offaly, had sought permission to continue to burn peat past a December 2020 deadline until 2027, while it transitioned to rely on biomass fuel. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

An ESB power plant in Co Offaly has been refused permission to redevelop in order to burn biomass rather than peat, in a decision by An Bord Pleanála on Tuesday.

The west Offaly power station, in Shannonbridge, Co Offaly, had sought permission to continue to burn peat past a December 2020 deadline until 2027, while it transitioned to rely on biomass fuel.

The planning rejection has created uncertainty for the future of 300 jobs at the plant, which is run by Bord na Móna. The semi-State company has indicated it intends to end peat harvesting in the coming years, and has already moved to close a number of its active bogs.

An Bord Pleanála refused permission for the Shannonbridge redevelopment due to the effects continuing peat burning would have on the climate. The planning board also criticised the “lack of information” around where Bord na Móna would source biomass.

The board’s decision said an end to burning peat was a “key component within national climate and energy policy” to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Delivering biomass to the power plant “would give rise to unsustainable transportation movements on a substandard regional road network,” the decision said. The proposal would therefore be contrary to sustainable development in the area, the board said.

Denis Naughten, Independent TD for Roscommon/Galway, said the news was a “devastating blow to the whole region”, which would have “far reaching implications for thousands of jobs”.

Environmental group An Taisce had objected to the development, due to the harmful impacts on the climate from continuing to burn peat up to 2027. The group also said the application was “premature” as Ireland did not have a national policy on the use of biomass supply.

The Health Service Executive made a submission criticising the increased noise levels, if the plant was to rely entirely on deliveries of biomass.

An Bord Pleanála’s environmental impact assessment was critical that “generating electricity from peat is now not a viable option from 2020”.

The planner’s report said “based on the details provided in this application, there is no reliable biomass source available to feed the Shannonbridge plant”.

The report said the application relied heavily on warnings of the negative economic impacts for the area if the plant had to close after 2020.

Disappointment

Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton expressed disappointment at the decision to refuse planning permission. “This was a plan for the future. We will have to see why this decision was made,” he told RTÉ Radio News at One.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for ESB said the State-owned company was “disappointed” the application was rejected. “ESB will now carefully study the details of the decision,” she said.

Willie Noone, secretary of the ESB Group of Unions, which represents plant workers, called on Mr Bruton to intervene in the matter.

“Over 300 direct jobs are at risk, with hundreds more that indirectly rely on the operation of the power station also under threat,” Mr Noone said.

“A ‘just transition’ does not entail throwing workers off an economic cliff edge with just the promise of a soft landing but little direct action,” he said.

In recent days hundreds of workers from Bord na Móna’s Lanesborough peat plant, Co Longford, held a protest over planned job losses at the station.