Minister: Ireland will have to stop burning coal to generate electricity
Ireland will have to stop burning coal to produce electricity and a decision must be made within five years on whether the country's biggest power station will continue to use the fossil fuel, Energy Minister Alex White has said.
The minister also said it was unrealistic to use biomass instead of coal to power Moneypoint, as it would require thousands of tonnes of woodchip to be imported into Ireland.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, he said the cost of converting the ESB-owned power station in Co Clare to burn biomass would be "substantial" and could require State support.
The station can produce enough electricity for more than 750,000 homes.
"It's a matter for the ESB but it's such a big issue that the minister and Government will have a view," he said. "I don't think it's a panacea as some people who oppose wind say.
"The issue of what to do with Moneypoint has to be on the agenda. How sustainable is it to import tens of thousands of tonnes of woodchip from the US?
"The cost of conversion would be very substantial. Moneypoint just did a lot of work to mitigate a lot of the emissions, but ultimately in this country we will have to stop burning coal to generate electricity.
"How long will that be? There's a mandate out there until 2025. One of the issues we have to decide is when do we decide it. Coal will have to go. If you took it out of the system tomorrow or next year, what do you replace it with? We would want to make a decision in the next five years, perhaps sooner."
Mr White also said it would be "hypocritical" to expect the State to divest itself of fossil fuel stocks held by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.
The fund holds shares in a number of companies involved in fossil fuel extraction, but Mr White said Ireland is currently inviting companies to explore our territorial waters for oil and gas, and fossil fuels will be needed to make the "transition" to a low-carbon economy.