Conversion of peat power plants to biomass in disarray after planning rejection

ESB’s plans to transition from burning peat in three power stations in the Midlands region of the Republic of Ireland to fuelling them with biomass are in disarray,  after the country’s independent planning agency An Bord Pleanála (ABP)  rejected proposals to convert the 150MW West Offaly plant.

Under this proposal the peat-burning plant would have been running wholly on biomass by 2027. Two other plants were due to follow suit. However, ABP argued that switching from rail-delivered peat to road-delivered biomass was unacceptable because of the impact of HGV traffic on the nearest village to the power station and on “a substandard regional road network”. It said, ”The proposed development would therefore be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”

Refusal of planning permission has sent shock waves through the region, where hundreds of jobs are now under threat. Environment minister Richard Bruton said the planning decision was “disappointing” and that ESB and Bord Na Mona, the state-run peat company, would be assessing it.

He said: “Clearly we are conscious that we want to develop a roadmap for the declining use of peat and create alternative working opportunities in the midlands.” ESB said it was “disappointed“ by the refusal and would “carefully study the details of the decision”.

Bord Na Móna’s (BNM’s) Edenderry (128MWe) and  Electricity Supply Board’s (ESB’s) West Offaly (135MWe)  and Lough Ree (100MWe) peat-fired power plants have long faced calls for them to be closed, but the owners have instead pursued plans to convert them to biomass.

ESB consulted last year on its plans to convert West Offaly and Lough Ree. That incurred opposition from as far away as the USA, from where environmental groups complained that biomass would have to be imported to Ireland from US forests. Biofuelwatch argued that the volumes of biomass required - 400,000t annually for Edenderry alone – could not be sourced from Ireland and plans to use miscanthus or other grasses had foundered on technical grounds.

Meanwhile, Lough Ree has been temporarily closed after falling foul of the Environmental Protection Agency over the temperature of cooling water discharged into the river Shannon. As a result, Bord na Móna said, about 70 permanent and 78 seasonal employees involved in peat supply have been laid off temporarily.

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