€616m paid out in potentially environmentally damaging subsidies in 2015, CSO data reveals

Published by Niall Sargent on

June 8th, 2017

Despite a marked increase in environmental subsidies for renewable energy in 2015, over €616m was also dished out for potentially environmentally damaging subsidies, new CSO figures reveal.

According to new figures released this week, total environmental funding amounted to €642 million in 2015, four per cent higher that the amount paid out in 2014.

An environmental subsidy is a current or capital transfer to support activities which protect the environment or reduce the use and extraction of natural resources. Funding is allotted to businesses, households, and public bodies.

Almost 30 per cent of subsidies went toward wastewater management (€184 million), 21 per cent to biodiversity protection (€133 million) and 14 per cent to heat and energy saving measures (€90 million).

A further 27 per cent went to renewable energy production (€171 million), which received a large increase in support from funds collected through the Public Service Obligation (PSO) Levy on electricity consumers. The levy raised €318 million in 2015, more than double the €144 million raised in 2010.

The remaining ten per cent of funding went toward climate change mitigation and waste management.

However, potentially environmentally damaging subsidies also received over €616m in 2015, according to the new data.

Such subsidies include transport fuel tax rebates and peat burning for electricity generation, which received €121m in support through the PSO levy, over a third of the €318 million raised by the levy in 2015.

Peat is currently burnt at Bord na Mona’s Edenderry power station and two ESB facilities in the Midlands, with PSO support set to expire at the plants in West Offaly and Lough Ree in 2019.

Although PSO support to Edenderry was phased out at the end of 2015, it began receiving support through the PSO-funded Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff (REFIT) in December 2015 for co-firing with biomass. The plant is guaranteed a tariff price under REFIT until December 2030.

Between 2010 and 2016, more than 150,000 tonnes of palm kernel shells (PKS) – a biomass product from the palm oil industry – was bought by Bord na Mona to burn alongside peat at Edenderry.

However, an investigation by The Irish Times earlier this year revealed that the semi-State body has imported the shells without knowledge of whether they have been sustainably sourced.

The palm oil industry is linked to various environmental and social abuses, such as deforestation, pollution, poor working conditions and the destruction of peatlands in Indonesia, from where nearly two-thirds of Bord na Móna’s PKS supplies originated.

The overall figure for environmental subsidies in 2015 was almost half of the €1.2b provided in 2008, although this peak was the result of significant funding for the Farm Waste Management Scheme to bring Ireland in line with the EU Nitrates Directive.

The scheme helped farmers finance investment in animal housing and storage for agricultural waste and silage.

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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