EPA proposes guidelines that may lift suspension on Lough Ree Power Station

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed guidelines on a revised licence to the ESB which, if approved, could reopen operations at its peat-fired Lough Ree power plant in Lanesborough, Co. Longford.

The EPA’s “proposed determination” – which is currently being considered by the ESB – contains 112 individual conditions relating to the environmental management, operation, control and monitoring of the plant.

Some of the proposed conditions include: controls on thermal discharge of cooling waters to the River Shannon, which the EPA states will “minimise impact on fish migration”; controls on emissions to air; and specific requirements on combustion efficiency in accordance with EU standards.

The proposal also provides for an increase in the tonnage of ash that can be accepted at the plant’s ash disposal facility from 550,000t to 680,000t of peat ash.

Under its licence review, the ESB sought to increase the tonnage of ash permitted at its disposal facility – located 10km away at Derraghan, Co. Longford.

The proposed determination has been sent to ESB and all third parties that made a submission on the application; a 28-day period will now commence whereby individuals can submit an objection and request an oral hearing.

Also Read: Up to 200 Bord na Móna workers to be laid off because of Lanesboro plant shutdown

As this is the first step in a statutory licensing process, the EPA has stated that all potential objections and submissions will be carefully considered before the EPA board makes a final decision.

In the event that no objection is taken against the proposed decision, the EPA has stated that a decision can then be made to grant the licence “as soon as possible” thereafter.

In a statement, the ESB said it noted the decision by the EPA and will now “take time to reflect on the decision and its associated conditions” – the company said it will not make any further comment at this time.

The move follows weeks of uncertainty for Bord na Móna (BNM) workers that were temporarily laid off due to the suspension of operations at the Lough Ree plant, following legal proceedings taken by the EPA relating to hot water discharges from the plant being released into the River Shannon.

The EPA said the plant was in breach of its environmental licence conditions – these conditions were changed at EU level in 2014.

Also Read: Hundreds march in opposition to Bord na Móna job losses

With no requirement to supply peat to the plant, BNM initially moved to temporarily lay off 150 temporary and permanent employees that work in peat supply, bog operations and maintenance at its nearby Mount Dillon facility which supplies peat to the electricity plant in Lanesborough.

However, after a ferocious backlash from workers and unions, and meetings with BNM, it was agreed that BNM would reverse plans to lay off more than 50 permanent staff – as alternative arrangements were found for this cohort – yet management said it would go ahead with plans to temporarily lay off the remaining 18 permanent staff members.

In the heat of the dispute, trade union SIPTU accused Bord na Móna of wanting to send out a stark message to its employees that it can be “ruthless” when it comes to laying off workers at short notice, as it moves forward with plans to cease peat harvesting by 2025 as part of its decarbonisation agenda.

Last month, hundreds of BNM workers, their families, local businesses and local politicians took to the streets of Lanesborough in protest against the temporary suspension of the plant – which has lead to knock-on economic consequences for businesses in the catchment area.

Meanwhile, the possible reopening of the Lough Ree plant coincides with An Bord Pleanála’s decision a couple of weeks ago to reject planning permission to redevelop an ESB power plant in Shannonbridge, Co. Offaly.

The plant looked for permission to seek an extension to its peat burning operations from 2020 to 2027 while it moved to transition to co-firing with biomass (woodchip) during this period.

An Bord Pleanála also raised concerns over the sustainability of depending on the importation of biomass to co-fire at the power plant over the coming years as currently there is no long-term domestic supply of biomass available in Ireland.