ESB outline plans to convert Shannonbridge power plant to burn biomass

Thursday, 1 March 2018

ESB outline plans to convert Shannonbridge power plant to burn biomass thumbnailPictured at the recent public consultation event in Shannonbridge, organised by ESB, is Paul Cullen, Eileen McGuinness, Minister Denis Naughten TD; and John O'Connor

PLANNING permission is expected to be sought in the coming months by ESB to allow West Offaly Power station, located in Shannonbridge, continue to operate and change fuel from peat to biomass on a phased basis.

Currently, ESB is exploring the conversion of its power stations at Shannonbridge and Lanesborough (Lough Ree Power) from peat to sustainable biomass on a phased basis and recently, the company held a pre-planning public consultation in Shannonbridge Parish Hall on Wednesday 21 last where ESB representatives were on hand to hear observations and concerns about the change of fuel at the station.

ESB were also joined by Minister for Communication Denis Naughten, who lent his support for the plans and also by Bord na Mona representatives.

Having been involved in generating electricity since the 1950s, ESB has a strong connection with local communities in the midlands and the two ESB plants, West Offaly Power and Lough Ree Power will operate in their current configuration until 2020.

It's planned the transition to biomass would initially be fuelled by both indigenous and imported sustainable biomass. As forestry crops mature, and with the potential growth of the indigenous biomass sector, it is anticipated the indigenous supply chain grows and displaces the requirement for imported fuels.

This would allow the plants to continue to support the regional economy and local jobs, subject to the cost inputs and supports making this a viable business case for investment.

Speaking to the Tribune at the event last week, John O'Connor, Manager of the Midlands Stations for ESB, explained this event was the "first step" in their planning process and the company was holding the public consultation event to "bring people in and engage with them".

Mr O'Connor said, subject to planning permission, the transition to biomass represented "significant investment" by ESB in the future of the two plants. "ESB want to lead that transition for the carbon future of Ireland as we see this as a big step, moving from 100% peat to a point in 2030 where we will be burning 100% bio mass fuel.

A lot of this is about sustaining jobs in the midlands and also, the regional economy as well and we want to be involved in that. We have been here since the 1950s. There's a long heritage and linkage there and we want to keep that going."

Only recently, the plant in Shannonbridge trialled the burning of biomass and according to Mr O'Connor, this went well. "We were happy with the trial," he enthused. When asked about any concerns people might have about the future of the plant and its jobs, the manager pointed out the company's "Brighter Future Strategy looked at moving the power stations over to renewable supplies and what we want to do is to secure the jobs that we have here.

"Because, if we don't do that our planning permission runs out in 2020 and the alternative is that the stations close, which is not what we want. In terms of engaging with people and talking about jobs, our goal is to try and sustain them [the plants] into the future.

But it has to be commercially viable as well. So, it's a fine balance between this and the long heritage with the midlands and the local economy. We want to retain the jobs into the future."

Meanwhile, assuming the appropriate planning permissions are secured and the business case for investment is made, with minimal interventions ESB will use the existing generation infrastructure to immediately transition to cleaner renewable energy by reducing peat intake and replacing it with biomass with both plants ultimately transitioning to fully biomass powered stations by the late 2020s.

Elsewhere, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten took the opportunity to chat to both the ESB representatives and the local people who called into last week's event.

"The reason I am here today is that long before I was appointed as Minster responsibility for this area, I had publicly said we should be burning biomass in the three peat fired power stations in the midlands because I felt it was the only long term sustainable future for employment levels in this region."

The Minister continued: " And, I am conscious of the employment levels locally and my concern was if we didn't proactively act in relation to this that down the road we would be forced to convert these plants to biomass and they would be importing it from half way across the world. But, I didn't want to do that and since the day I went into the Department I have been putting the structures in place to try and develop a biomass industry in this country."

The Minister then confirmed that cabinet had approved close to a trebling of payments per hectare for farmers who grow forestry crops for fuel to support renewable heat and electricity generation.


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