Bord na Móna going green with peat harvesting to end by 2030
Communities could be offered the opportunity to invest in wind farms by one of the country's biggest landowners, as Bord na Móna makes the historic move away from peat harvesting.
In what it describes as the "biggest change of land use in modern Irish history", Bord na Móna plans to stop harvesting peat by 2030.
It will invest in green energy production, including wind and solar farms, and ramp-up production of biomass to fuel its Edenderry power plant.
About 15,000 hectares of willow will be planted and converted into 300,000 tonnes of biomass fuel, which will be used to produce electricity at the Co Offaly plant, it said.
It also plans to rehabilitate substantial areas of bog and develop new wildlife habitats to promote eco-tourism, as peat harvesting ends across 51,000 hectares of bog within 15 years.
The company controls around 81,000 hectares of land in total, which includes 130 bogs, and plans to develop a wind farm every year out to 2022 with business partners. Last year, its Mountlucas and Bruckana wind farms commenced operations, and there is "potential" for communities to take an equity stake in the projects.
"We have a community benefits scheme where community groups and schools benefit from a percentage from (revenues from) the wind farm. Community ownership is something that we're looking at," a source said.
The Sustainability 2030 plan notes that Bord na Móna is already the largest user of biomass in the State, with 320,000 tonnes consumed last year. It is working with the ESB to convert two stations to biomass, and is also developing a biomass briquette.
The company also plans to invest in large-scale solar projects, which would produce a minimum of 10MW (megawatts) of power - enough for at least 5,500 homes. Solar farms of around 50MW are eventually planned.
"By 2030 we will cease harvesting energy peat. We will use the land to continue to underpin Ireland's energy independence, only now we will be using green sustainable energy sources such as wind, biomass and solar power," chief executive Mike Quinn said.
"The move means that our carbon profile, which is already falling fairly dramatically, will see a very substantial deceleration.
"Add in the positive improvements in biodiversity across vast areas of land and you have a change of at least national significance."
Bord na Móna had a turnover of €417m last year, and recorded an operating profit of €52.4m. It employs an average of 2,000 people, and the company said jobs would be protected.
However, environment group Friends of the Earth said the decision to cease harvesting peat for electricity production was a "decade too late".