Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

'Historic day' - Midland farmers to be encouraged to grow biomass crops as plans to convert peat stations announced

Ireland must support the growing of bio-energy crops such as Miscanthus
Ireland must support the growing of bio-energy crops such as Miscanthus

Eoghan MacConnell

The unveiling of plans to convert two midland peat burning stations to biomass was welcomed as “historic” for the region yesterday.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten said “it is a very historic day. We are now looking at transitioning away from peat to biomass here in Shannonbridge, the same thing in Lanesborough, we have already started in Edenderry. Today is the first step in that with the public consultation.”

He was speaking in Shannonbridge, Co Offaly, where the ESB was holding a public consultation on its plans for West Offaly Power Station.  Manager of the Midlands stations for the ESB, John O’Connor said the said the plan would cost “multiple millions” if planning is approved for Shannonbridge and Lough Ree Power Station in Lanesborough. 

“We would be moving from 100% peat at the moment and transitioning out of that over time to a point in 2030 where we would be 100% biomass fuel,” Mr O’Connor explained. “What we want to do is secure the jobs that we have here,” he remarked. 

The proposals would see increasing amounts of biomass being used at the plants as peat is phased out in the coming years.

Minister Naughten wants a smooth transition away from peat and believes the process can be achieved while maintaining jobs in the region.

Bord Na Mona Edenderry Power Station in Co Offaly
Bord Na Mona Edenderry Power Station in Co Offaly

“Minister Andrew Doyle has now announced a trebling of the financial supports available per hectare for farmers to start growing energy crops and wood crops that would actually supply this power station here and the other power stations in the midlands,” he explained. 

Acknowledged previous issues with biomass crops, he pointed out that there will now be a market for the crops at the three midland stations. He noted Willow needed to be grown on good ground, but said Bord na Mona has been trialling other crops such as eucalyptus which may suit poorer ground. 

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Referring to the trebling of payments, he said, “that’s a clear message for farmers that supports are going to be significantly enhanced and that there is an outlet here right across the midlands in these three plants as we transition away from peat and into biomass.” 

While admitting some imported biomass will be needed in the short term, Minister Naughten said Bord na Mona Bioenergy, which was launched at the Ploughing Championships, is going to support farmers in growing and harvesting the crops locally. He said Bioenergy's primary objective was to ensure that structures are in place to source biomass in the vicinity of the plants. 

“I would hope that the environmental organisations will work with the communities here right across the midlands, help to support farmers and encourage them to start growing these renewable energy crops and see them develop here locally,” added Minister Naughten.

Chairman of Shannonbridge Action Group David Kearns was eager to know what was planned for the area in the longterm. “Are they going to get up here and close the gates and and walk out and leave us as a ghost estate,” Mr Kearns asked. He wants Bord na Mona, the ESB and Offaly County Council to work out a plan for the village so “to make sure that there is life for our kids and the kids coming after us.” 

Mr Kearns was eager to see the conversion approved for the plant, “it would be devastating, not only for Shannonbridge, it would be devastating for the whole midlands. You have Lanesborough, you have, you have Edenderry. There is absolutely nothing in the area to replace them.”  

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