ESB to close two peat-powered generating stations

  • Nov 09, 2019
  • Irish Times

The ESB has announced the closure of two peat-powered generating plants after failing to secure permission to switch them to biomass power stations.

The plants – at Shannonbridge in Offaly and Lanesboro, Co Longford – will stop generating electricity from December 2020. The two plants, which were commissioned in 2004, employ 80 people between them.

In a statement, ESB noted that the current planning permissions for the plants expire at the end of next year and their closure marks the end of power generation solely from burning peat in the State.

Lanesborough produced 135 megawatts of power and Lough Ree Power produced 100 megawatts, both of which were enough to power about 245,000 homes.

The State energy utility had submitted an application to An Bord Pleanála in 2018 to switch Shannonbridge from peat to biomass over a number of years, starting in 2020. That proposal was rejected in July.

“Since then, ESB has undertaken a review of the options for both West Offaly Power [Shannonbridge] and Lough Ree Power [Lanesboro] stations post 2020 in the context of the requirements of the single electricity market,” the company said.

“Having considered the key planning, environmental and commercial issues associated with peat and biomass, regrettably there is no viable business model beyond 2020. Therefore both stations will cease generation of electricity at the end of December 2020.”

ESB said it would now begin the process of engaging with staff and stakeholders to prepare for an orderly closure of the stations. The Irish Times understands that compulsory redundancies are not envisaged. One source noted that previously, a portion of staff were offered early retirement, another portion took voluntary severance while the remainder were redeployed.

“Given our long history of power generation in Shannonbridge and Lanesboro, this is a matter of significant regret for ESB,” the company said.

“ESB very much appreciates the commitment of our staff and the support of the broader community over many decades during which ESB, in strong collaboration with Bord na Móna, played a key role in the development of the economy in the midlands.”

It said the company would put €5 million into a Just Transition Fund established by the Government with €6 million in exchequer funding to assist regeneration of the Midlands.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton has appointed Kieran Mulvey to be a “just transition commissioner” to co-ordinate Government response to the State’s accelerated exit out of peat and the affect that will have on workers and the midlands region.

Both plants support hundreds of jobs at Bord na Móna, which supplies the peat that they burn to generate electricity.

Bord na Móna group of unions secretary, Siptu official Willie Noone, said last month that news the ESB had been looking to recover the cost of dismantling the power plants confirmed many of his members’ fears.

However, in response to questions on Friday, Bord Na Móna said staff will not be affected by the ESB announcement. Significant job losses announced at the company previously were made on the basis that the State would end peat burning next year, a spokesman said.

“Bord na Móna’s plans detail new investment in renewable energy and other areas, a limited reopening of the voluntary redundancy scheme and the redeployment of employees into peatland rehabilitation operations and other areas,” a statement from the company said.

The company added that it’s €1.6 billion investment programme will create 100 direct jobs in the development of renewable assets, 100 new jobs in recycling operations and up to another 300 jobs in new green projects.

But Roscommon-Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice aired concern for Bord Na Móna workers, calling on Government to step in to ensure they “are afforded a just transition”.

“We cannot just drop the hatchet on these plants and walk away. Rural communities across the midlands and parts of the west of Ireland depend on these stations for employment,” Mr Fitzmaurice said.

There is one remaining plant in the State which does burn some peat. The plant, in Edenderry, uses peat and biomass, 80 per cent of which is sourced in the Republic.

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