Late ruling puts 800 jobs at risk
AN investment of €600m and the creation of up to 800 jobs in Ireland by the Spanish energy giant, Endesa, are hanging in the balance following an unexplained delay in the decision-making process at An Bord Pleanala.
A decision by the State planning authority on an application by Endesa to redevelop the former ESB power plant at Great Island in Co Wexford had been due for announcement on June 10 last, but has now been put back until August at the earliest.
Meanwhile, a second application by the Spanish energy provider for the redevelopment of another power plant at Tarbert in Co Kerry is down for decision on June 28. However, it remains unclear if that deadline will be met.
Asked by the Sunday Independent to account for the delay in the decision on the Great Island application, a spokesman for an An Bord Pleanala declined to comment other than to say: "The participants [Endesa] have been told by letter that the reason for the delay is because of the complexity of the issues in the case."
Asked if the June 28 deadline for a decision on the Tarbert application was still applicable, the spokesman said: "The case is under consideration but it is not yet known whether this date will be met."
Endesa has applied to redevelop both plants -- which it purchased for €450m from the ESB -- from their current configuration of Heavy Fuel Oil into more environmentally friendly Combined Cycle Gas Turbine operations.
According to the official record of the Endesa applications, both were submitted in their final form in December of last year under the 'fast track' planning process accorded to developments deemed as strategic infrastructure.
Closer examination of the planning files relating to the application for the redevelopment of the Great Island plant shows that an inspector from An Bord Pleanala carried out an on-site inspection on June 22 last year. The inspector's report of that visit was not presented to the board of the authority, however, until October 29 -- some four months later.
Asked to explain the seemingly inordinate delay between the site inspection and the delivery of the report, An Bord Pleanala's spokesman said the "length of time spent on preparing a report and recommendations varied" -- and could be affected by variables such as the scale of the project and the holding of oral hearings in individual cases.
Fine Gael TD for Kerry North Jimmy Deenihan -- in whose constituency the Tarbert plant is located -- said that while he could not be seen to be trying to influence a decision of An Bord Pleanala, he was nonetheless anxious to see the matter resolved. "Any delay gives rise to concern. It's already been acknowledged that Endesa paid too much for both sites. They don't need any further obstacles. We need the whole planning process to be expedited," Mr Deenihan said.
"This development [in Tarbert] could lead to and attract further investment in the lower Shannon area. With the Hess Energy Corporation already located in the region, this has the potential to attract a lot of international attention which could deliver investment and employment," the Fine Gael TD added.