ESB to close both its Midlands peat stations in 2020

Published by Niall Sargent on

November 8th, 2019

The ESB has announced that it will shut its peat plants in the Midlands when current planning permissions expire at the end of 2020.

The decision will have deeply felt ramifications for Midlands communities dependent on the semi-state body for employment, especially as the plants were scheduled to shut in 2027 in line with the State’s peat phase-out.

There are 80 ESB workers at the plants who will be affected by the move, as well as many of the 1,000 staff members of Bord na Móna that supplies around two million tonnes of peat to the ESB annually.

The semi-state wanted to convert both plants that have a combined capacity of 250MW to co-fire with biomass until 2027 but was the plan was hit a major blow earlier this year. 

In July, its application to convert its West Offaly station in Shannonbridge, Co Offaly was struck down by An Bord Pleanála over a range of biodiversity, biomass supply, traffic movement, and climate concerns.

Plans to convert the Lough Ree station in Lanesboro, Co Longford were scuppered by the plant’s shutdown this summer over EPA compliance issues and the planning authority’s ruling over Shannonbridge.

The ESB said that following a review of the key planning, environmental and commercial issues associated with peat and biomass it “regrettably” determined that there is “no viable business model beyond 2020”.

The semi-state will now begin the process of engaging with staff and stakeholders to prepare for an “orderly closure of the stations”.

Ireland’s third peat plant, Bord na Móna’s facility in Edenderry, Co Offaly, has planning permission in place until 2023 to co-fire peat with biomass.

The plant has a biomass co-fuelling rate of over 40 per cent but has come under criticism over the sustainability of its biomass imports.

Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton at stakeholder meeting Photo: Niall Sargent

Just Transition funding  

Speaking this morning, the Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton TD said he is “acutely aware” that the ESB’s decision will have an immediate impact on workers, the region and also our emissions.

The accelerated exit from peat will mean that at least 1.25 million tonnes of carbon will be saved each year and emissions will reduce by up to 9 million tonnes up to 2027. 

 “Getting out of peat early will have a significant impact on our emissions. We must manage this is in a way that ensures the Midlands is supported through the transition,” Mr Bruton said.

Mr Bruton added that the Government is working to ensure a just transition for workers and affected regions under its new climate action plan.

Budget 2020 also includes €6m for a Just Transition Fund, with the ESB now set to contribute an additional €5m. The fund will support retraining and reskilling and assist communities and businesses to adjust in the low carbon transition.

An additional €20m was set aside in the Budget for retrofitting in the Midlands that the State says will support 400 jobs, and €5m will go toward bog restoration and rehabilitation, creating up to 100 jobs.

Just Transition Commissioner

The Minister also announced Kieran Mulvey as the country’s first Just Transition Commissioner. He will engage with all relevant stakeholders, including, trade unions, councils and semi-state energy companies.

The Commissioner, who will report to Mr Bruton’s department, will also review best practices and existing State plans and programmes to feed into recommendations on elements of a Just Transition.

Mr Mulvey brings a wealth of labour relations experience to the position as the former head of the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Relations Commission. He has also acted as a consultant with the International Labour Organisation.

He established his career in the teachers’ labour movement and was the head of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland and the Irish Federation of University Teachers.

Most recently, he was instrumental in mediation talks between Ryanair and striking pilots and chaired the negotiations that led to the Croke Park and Lansdowne Road Agreements.

Train with milled peat for Edenderry Powerstation Photo: Peter Mooney

Co-firing and PSO levy

The Minister also announced that the Government is engaging with the European Commission to put in place an “extensive Bord na Móna bog rehabilitation programme” of 77,000 hectares of peatlands.

The scheme, Mr Bruton said, would be funded by a re-purposed Public Service Obligation (PSO) – the levy charged on electricity consumers. The two ESB plants will receive a total of €27.5 million this year under the PSO levy before it expires for peat burning in December.

Bord na Mona’s Edenderry plant has availed of support through the PSO-funded Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (REFIT) since December 2015. 

Last year, Friends of the Irish Environment asked the European Commission to investigative the State’s decision to subsidise biomass burning at Edenderry.

FIE claim that this is leading to significant increases in emissions and ensures that peat burning can continue at the Midlands power station.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London