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Environmental groups call on Irish government to close peat power plants

An Open Letter opposing Irish peat-to-biomass power plant conversion plans has been sent to the Irish government, Bord Na Móna (BNM) and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB). Penned by 33 US conservation and environmental justice organisations, the signatories are calling on the government to "ensure that all three peat-fired power stations are closed down no later than 2020" with the capacity being replaced by "genuine" low-carbon renewable energy and greater energy efficiency and conservation.

Stockpiling woodchips at Bord na Móna’s 128 MWe Edenderry peat and biomass-fired power station.

In the letter dated August 13, the groups argue that replacing peat with burning wood pellets from forests will not benefit the climate, that full peat-to-biomass conversions would require more wood than Ireland produces annually and that the large-scale burning of wood in Irish power stations poses a “serious threat” to southern US forests – the most likely source of wood pellet import.

The groups, with support from An Taisce – The National Trust for Ireland, one of the oldest and largest environmental organisations in Ireland are calling for Bord Na Móna’s (BNM) Edenderry facility and the Electricity Supply Board’s (ESB) West Offaly and Lough Ree peat-fired power plants to be closed down no later than 2020 instead of being converted to run of biomass.

The Irish Government must listen to the warnings from US environmental groups. An Taisce has long called for the urgent phase-out of high-carbon, dirty peat burning in Ireland. Burning either peat or imported wood pellets undermines Ireland’s climate change commitments while also destroying critical biodiversity. It must be ended, said John Gibbons, climate change spokesperson from An Taisce

According to An Taisce, the call also supports demands by environmental NGOs in Ireland that the Irish Government and energy companies must instead increase support for “genuinely low-carbon” renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. Scaling up domestic biomass resources such as willow short rotation coppice (SRC) to meet demand have been dismissed by the signatories as practically and economically “unrealistic.”

It is cynical in the extreme for Bord Na Móna to plan to extend the life of its ecologically devastating peat burning business by contributing to similar destruction abroad. As a semi-state company, it is under direct political control, so there is absolutely no reason Bord Na Móna cannot be directed by government to focus only on commercial activities that do not destroy biodiversity, increase flooding risk and further undermine Ireland’s climate targets, said John Gibbons.

At Edenderry, Bord Na Móna has been increasing biomass co-firing rates and performance year-on-year since its first trials in 2008. Earlier this year the company said it was not proceeding further with plans to “directly develop” a US-based biomass pellet plant.

The ESB held public consultations in March this year about its plans to convert its 135 MWe West Offaly Power station and 100 MWe Lough Ree Power station from peat to biomass.

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