Wednesday 22 January 2020

EU asked to approve €80m bailout to help midlands adjust to move from peat energy

Every household in the country will be required to contribute

Burning issue: A Bord na Móna bog train ferrying peat destined for Lanesborough power station
Burning issue: A Bord na Móna bog train ferrying peat destined for Lanesborough power station
Communications Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke

Kevin Doyle and Caroline O'Doherty

THE EU has been asked to approve an €80m bailout to help the midlands adjust to moving from peat energy, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Every household in the country will be required to contribute to the fund through a payment already charged on their electricity bill.

The Public Service Obligation (PSO) is used primarily to subsidise and support renewable-energy generation.

However, Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton has formally asked the European Commission to allow €20m raised annually from the PSO to be diverted into a fund for rehabilitating bogs.

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Communications Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Communications Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke

The annual PSO levy is currently €38.68 on every household for the 2019/20 period, which is the lowest it has been in several years.

The EU must decide whether the repurposing of the levy, aimed at sustaining jobs for around 200 Bord na Móna workers, is allowed under State aid rules.

News of the application will be welcomed in the midlands, where the ESB plans to close peat-fired electricity generation plants in the region at the end of 2020.

Fears have been growing for the sustainability of some of the rural communities which have relied on the bogs to provide employment for many generations.

Mr Bruton has previously said the Government's 'Just Transition' plan would help provide new jobs by taking advantage of the shift towards a low-carbon economy.

If approved, the repurposed PSO levy will be a funding channel for the Enhanced Peatland Restoration and Rehabilitation scheme, which will run over four years.

The programme will rehabilitate 77,000 hectares of bogs to a high standard so that they can store carbon and promote biodiversity.

This is in addition to the €5m to be invested in non-Bord na Móna bogs that was announced in the Budget.

It is understood the Government has argued at EU level that peatlands are the most efficient carbon store on Earth.

They say that by reviving Ireland's bogs to an enhanced level, they can create a great asset for the future that will store carbon and promote biodiversity.

This will save nine million tons of carbon and, according to Government sources, ultimately result in lower energy bills for consumers.

The proposed Enhanced Peatland Restoration and Rehabilitation scheme will directly support Bord na Móna to carry out interventions that are over and above the obligations arising from the 'decommissioning' and 'rehabilitation' works required by the Environmental Protection Agency licences.

On Budget day in October, the Government allocated €31m specifically to help the midlands.

This includes €6m for a Just Transition Fund for re-skilling workers and community development.

There will also be €5m for restoration and rehabilitation on non-Bord na Móna bogs, and €20m for a programme of home retrofitting in the region.

Irish Independent

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