Ireland has little choice but to diversify away from peat as a fuel source
An opportunity for the Midlands to go green and to embrace ‘renewables’
Since Bord na Móna was set up in 1933 as the Turf Development Board, many thousands of acres of raised bog in the midlands have been harvested for use as fuel for power stations as well as peat briquettes and garden compost. But that era is coming to an end, hastened by a High Court judgment quashing a decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission for the peat-fired power station in Edenderry, Co Offaly, to continue in operation until 2023.
Ruling in favour of An Taisce, which had sought a judicial review of the appeals board’s decision, Mr Justice Michael White found that it had “completely excluded consideration of the indirect effects” on the environment of burning up to 1.2 million tonnes of peat per annum, in its deliberations on whether the life of the power plant should be extended.
A stay was placed on the court order until next April, to allow An Bord Pleanála to adjudicate on appeals by An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment against a fresh planning application to extend the life of the plant. But whether or not this latest effort succeeds, the writing is on the wall for peat as an indigenous Irish energy resource.
Bord na Móna has announced that it will stop harvesting peat for energy use in 2030 and move towards more environmentally sustainable activities, including solar and wind power. Given that burning turf is even more damaging to the climate than burning other fossil fuels, environmentalists have argued that it should stop even sooner, by 2020, if Ireland is to have any chance of meeting EU short- to medium-term targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The High Court’s decision to overturn planning permission for the continued operation of Bord Na Móna’s Edenderry plant has clear implications for other peat-fired power stations in the midlands, putting much-needed jobs at risk; already, trade have warned that the State-owned company must not seek compulsory redundancies from the 180 staff employed at Edenderry.
However, as Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said, the court ruling “gives us a chance to change tack and to turn away from this most polluting form of power generation for good”. In that context, Bord na Móna should be urgently assessing alternative uses for its 125,000 acres of largely cutaway bog in the midlands. Given that there are few houses in the vicinity, the most obvious prospect is wind energy, with a concentration of turbines and even solar arrays that would be removed from where people live.
A Government decision is also needed on the future of the ESB’s coal-fired power station at Moneypoint, on the Shannon Estuary, which is Ireland’s largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions, easily eclipsing Edenderry.