Naughten: concerns over ‘long-fingering’ of decision on power station demolition

In East Galway, East-Roscommon, Environment, Families, Infrastructure, Jobs, Mid-Roscommon, News, South Roscommon by Denis Naughten

Seasonal staff need assurances on work this year

Local TD Denis Naughten has expressed serious concerns with regard to the ongoing delay by Government in confirming that it will stall any plan by the ESB to demolish the power stations at Shannonbridge and Lanesboro.

Following a recommendation by the Just Transition Commissioner, Kieran Mulvey, a commitment was included in the Programme for Government to conduct a feasibility study into establishing a green energy hub using the existing infrastructure at the West Offaly and Lough Ree sites. This would be overseen by a steering group  including representatives of Minister Eamon Ryan.

“Two months ago when I questioned the Tánaiste in Dáil Éireann on the plans to retain the power stations I was informed by him that ‘we expect that the work of this group will conclude by the end of this year having regard to the timelines required to meet the company’s planning permission obligations on both sites’,” explained Denis Naughten.

“But last month Minister Ryan informed me that the study is still ongoing and that he expects that  ‘the work of the group will conclude early this year, having regard to the timelines required to meet the company’s planning permission obligations in relation to both sites’.”

Commenting on the change to the timelines Denis Naughten said: “I am concerned that this slippage, to what was already a very tight timeline, could now lead to the two power stations being demolished before all alternative employment options and uses for the plants are fully explored. As a former Minister for Energy, my genuine fear is that the planning process will be used as a vehicle to delay any constructive action until it’s too late and then blame the planning system itself.”

Denis Naughten also cautioned against a rush to demolish both power plants saying: “If they are demolished, it is effectively wasting €176 million of electricity customers’ money in lost operational capacity, which every single family in this country will have to pay for through their electricity bills.

“We have seen the mistakes that were made in the past with the demolition of our two sugar plants in Mallow and Carlow, which I argued against at the time. Do not let us repeat the mistakes we made in our sugar industry. Do not let these power plants be demolished until all possible alternatives have been fully explored.

“I raised these issues two months ago on the floor of Dáil Éireann in the context of providing clarity on the future job prospects for seasonal staff in Bord na Mona and on the rates of pay for the rehabilitation works on the bogs across the Midland counties.”

Deputy Naughten pointed out: “In 2019, I proposed that the Government would bring forward and front-load a bog restoration programme to protect existing jobs in Bord na Móna in the short term, pending the reconfiguration of the company. I am glad the Government took on board my proposal, which resulted in Cabinet approval last year of a €108 million large-scale peatland restoration project by Bord na Móna, which will create 350 jobs and protect the jobs of many permanent employees.”

However, Denis Naughten went on to caution: “There is a lack of clarity for the 280 seasonal workers all of whom have now been laid off. Will they be re-employed? Under what terms and conditions will they be re-employed? Will their annual earnings be significantly curtailed? These are key questions not only for the staff and their families but also for the wider local economy that is so dependent on the spending power of these employees”.

“These seasonal staff have now just been thrown aside and have no clarity on what their future holds, this is just not good enough” concluded Denis Naughten.

ENDS.

Editor’s Note:

Watch the debate here: https://youtu.be/cqdJUExJgrM

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment

Electricity Supply Board

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)

  1. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the details of the discussions he has had with stakeholders regarding the future use of the west Offaly power station; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2970/21]

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)

  1. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the details of the discussions he has had with stakeholders regarding the future use of Lough Ree power station; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2971/21]

Eamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 66 and 67 together.

The first progress report of the Just Transition Commissioner, Mr Kieran Mulvey, published on 22 May, reflects a comprehensive engagement with relevant stakeholders in the Midlands, setting out the analysis of the challenges facing the region, and for Bord na Móna workers, their families and communities, arising from an accelerated exit from peat harvesting. The report contains a range of important recommendations several of which have already been acted on by the Government. I intend to shortly publish an implementation plan to address the remainder.

The recommendation of the Commissioner that a study be undertaken in relation to the future potential of the ESB power stations at both Lanesborough (Lough Ree Power) and Shannonbridge (West Offaly Power) for the establishment of a dedicated Energy Hub in the Midlands was subsequently included as a commitment in the Programme for Government.

A feasibility study into the establishment of a Green Energy Hub using the existing infrastructure at the West Offaly and Lough Ree sites has been underway over the last number of months. This is being overseen by a steering group chaired by the ESB, and includes representatives of my Department, relevant Local Authorities, and other stakeholders. I expect that the work of the group will conclude early this year, having regard to the timelines required to meet the company’s planning permission obligations in relation to both sites.

 

 

 

Dáil Éireann debate –
Thursday, 3 Dec 2020

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí – Leaders’ Questions

 

Deputy Denis Naughten

Ireland’s 70-year history of generating electricity from peat will come to an end in just 15 days. As Minister responsible for energy, I was instrumental in bringing about a transition from peat but, under my plan, there was to be an orderly winding down of peat harvesting up to 2026. In the next 15 days, however, two of the biggest peat-fired power plants in the world will stop burning peat and close. The west Offaly power station is set to close tomorrow week and Lough Ree power station is set to close seven days later, on 18 December. This decision will bring forward the closures by a decade and will have very serious economic consequences right across the midland counties. It is equivalent in scale to the closure of the likes of Google in Dublin city.

That is why, 18 months ago, I proposed that the Government bring forward and front-load a bog restoration programme to protect existing jobs in Bord na Móna in the short term, pending the reconfiguration of the company. I am glad that the Government took up my proposal which resulted in the Cabinet approval last week of a €108 million large-scale peatland restoration project by Bord na Móna that will create 350 jobs and protect the jobs of many permanent employees.

However, there is a lack of clarity for the 280 seasonal workers. Will they be re-employed? Under what terms and conditions will they be re-employed? Will their annual earnings be significantly curtailed? These are key questions not only for the staff and their families but also for the wider local economy that is so dependent on the spending power of these employees. Will the Tánaiste provide clarity to these employees on their future prospects within the State company, Bord na Móna, in advance of the closure of the two power plants?

What are the future plans for the power stations themselves? It seems that despite concerns being expressed by the Government’s just transition commissioner, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, the ESB is determined to demolish both plants. Mr. Mulvey, in his most recent report, stated, “On the visit of the Just Transition team to both Shannonbridge … and Lanesborough … we were impressed by the pristine state of the power stations.” These two power plants have at least ten years of operation left. They have already been paid for by electricity customers throughout the country. If they are demolished, it is effectively wasting €176 million of electricity customers’ money. This is not in the best interests of local staff, the local economy or the country as a whole and electricity customers in particular who will foot the bill for the demolition of both plants and have to pay for alternative technology to provide replacement stability on the electricity grid.

 

The Tánaiste

When we think about the history and economy of the midlands, certainly for most of the past hundred years it has been dominated by two semi-State bodies, namely, ESB and Bord na Móna. They have provided well-paid and secure jobs that, in turn, create other jobs because of spending in the local economy by people who work in the ESB and Bord na Móna. That is going to change as we make the transition from brown to green and from a carbon-based economy to a zero-carbon economy. That does not mean it cannot be changed for the better, including in the midlands. That is why the Government is committed to a just transition and why we have dedicated significant funding to the workers, companies and communities affected by the closure of the peat-fired stations and the end of peat harvesting by Bord na Móna. This will ensure significant job retention in Bord na Móna, as well as job creation efforts and new business opportunities for the wider region.

As Deputy Naughten acknowledged, just last week the Government set aside €108 million for Bord na Móna’s large-scale peatlands restoration project, which will secure 350 jobs in Bord na Móna and contribute to our target of being carbon neutral by 2050.

I will have to check on the specific question that the Deputy asked about seasonal employees. I expect that they will still be needed because more work is done in the good weather and it is necessary to cover leave arrangements. I will check on that for the Deputy.

The first progress report of the just transition commissioner was published on 22 May. That reflects a comprehensive engagement with relevant stakeholders in the midlands, setting out for the workers, their families and communities the analysis of the challenges facing the region arising from the accelerated exit from peat harvesting. The report contains important recommendations which will guide job creation efforts and create new opportunities for Bord na Móna workers in the midlands. Following the programme for Government commitment, a feasibility study into establishing a green energy hub using the existing infrastructure at the West Offaly and Lough Ree sites has now commenced. This study is being overseen by a steering group chaired by the ESB and includes representatives of the Department of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the relevant local authorities and other stakeholders. We expect that the work of this group will conclude by the end of this year having regard to the timelines required to meet the company’s planning permission obligations on both sites.

 

Deputy Denis Naughten

I thank the Tánaiste for his response. The reality is that €38 is being wasted in lost operational capacity for every single family in this country, who will be paying for it through their electricity bills. There are also the demolition costs of the two power plants and the replacement electricity reinforcement costs. All of those costs will be footed by families throughout the country.

There are three separate power generation proposals of which I am aware, including the conversion of the power plants to hydrogen fuel power. That would be the first in the world if it were to happen.

We have seen the mistakes that were made in the past with the demolition of our two sugar plants in Mallow and Carlow, which I argued against at the time. Do not let us repeat the mistakes that we made in our sugar industry. Do not let the two power plants be demolished until all possible alternatives have been fully explored.

 

The Tánaiste

The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, informs me that the current planning permission for the two sites include an obligation to decommission the power plants and remediate the sites by the end of 2022. Prior to any development opportunity taking place, the ESB must satisfy the legal obligation to remediate the existing sites. In addition, I understand that the power plant equipment cannot be used for any purpose beyond December 2020 because neither the planning consents nor environmental licences cover any such issue. Notwithstanding this, the ESB is committed to the future use of the sites, and a feasibility study is under way to assess how this valuable infrastructure might be used in the longer term, taking account of its location, the infrastructure that is in place and the future requirements of the electricity market.