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Peat.

Posted by Kate Ruddock on August 13, 2019 at 12:53 PM

issue-ireandspeatlands7-byjoannapaterson

Friends of the Earth objected to ESB's proposal for a peat and biomass plant at Shannonbridge West Offaly. The idea that Ireland would import chopped up trees and woody materials from all over the world to burn alongside dried out peat in order to produce electricity was unconscionable. Our bogs are Ireland's equivalent of the Amazon rainforest. Our biodiversity hotspots. Fragile ecosystems bursting with plants and animals not found anywhere else AND they serve as natural carbon sinks, sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere helping us to combat climate breakdown.

An Bord Pleanala agreed. They refused the application. This puts the jobs of the 300 people who work directly at the plant very much at risk, and jeopardises the livelihoods of hundreds more in the wider community where it is fair to say there are not many career opportunities. It also puts at risk ESB's plans for their other peat station at Lough Ree in Longford. Given their strategy for both plants was the same, it now seems highly unlikley the strategy will work in Longford. The peat plant in Longford was shut down earlier this year by the Environmental Protection Agency because it was dumping polluted water into the River Shannon and impacting the local fisheries and wildlife there. With a weeks notice 148 staff were laid off indefinitely. The coal plant Moneypoint has been closed on and off for much of 2019. First because of 'engineering issues' and then because the price of coal makes burning it uncompetitive. We are watching the demise of the most polluting electricity plants in Ireland. The demise of fossil fuel stations owned and operated by semi stage agencies, ESB and Bord na Mona.

Last year, electricity from the coal and peat stations amounted to about 20% of Ireland's electricity, but were responsible for almost 50% of the carbon emissions from the electricity sector. The Government is encouraging us to switch to electric cars and heat pumps, and with all the fossil fuels falling out of the electricity system, these switches are made all the better in terms of cutting our carbon emissions.

Not better, of course for those who's livelihoods depend on working in these fossil fuel facilities. These closures and the redundancies that wil follow are coming as a sudden and devastating blow to ordinary people working for state owned companies.

The agencies of the state established to protect us, are now doing just that, but while protecting the majority they are threatening the bottom line of companies of the state that operate for profit, and its the workers who are being cast aside first.

And although sudden, this is entirely unsurprising. Despite the declarations of shock from Minister Bruton and senior politicians upon the announcement from An Bord Pleananla not to permit an extension to the West Offaly plant, this was entirely predictable. It is 21 years since the Government was first advised (by its own advisors) to stop burning peat and coal to meet our then 2010 Kyoto Climate goals. However, instead of putting in place a plan to wind down the industry, they propped it up with subsidies. And everyone who pays an electricity bill has been paying for that for years in whats known as the PSO - public service obligation (this year the PSO for peat will fall to €30 million, from its height of about €120 million a year). That subsidy is due to end at the end of 2019, and without it burning peat is completely uneconomical.

But where is the plan for all of this? The Cliamte Action Plan suggests a review group is established. It doesnt seem like there is time for that. Can we trust Bord na Mona and the ESB will treat their workers well? Recent experiences suggest otherwise. It is high time the Government steps in and establishes a task force to ensure a fair deal is negotiated with the unions and ordinary working people are protected.

Burning peat is entirely uncompatible with a safe climate. Pretending it's not, is as morally reprehensible as pretending to the affected communities that they can continue with business as usual.

Photo credit: An Taisce Joanna Paterson

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