‘Peat industry closure will lead to crazy biomass import bills’

The looming closure of the peat industry in Ireland will lead to costly hikes in biomass imports to Ireland, independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has claimed.

The Roscommon-Galway representative was speaking ahead of a much-anticipated announcement from Bord na Mona (BNM) tomorrow (Wednesday, October 24), where the semi-state company is expected to give an update on plans to co-fire its power stations with a mixture of biomass and peat, rather than all peat up to 2030 – when all peat harvesting is set to cease.

It is understood that BNM intends to drop nearly one million tonnes in its peat production target next year – which equates to a 35% reduction in peat harvesting – a move which is expected to result in the immediate fall-out of up to 150 jobs in the peat business ahead of harvest 2019.

It is understood that the move will be carried out on a voluntary redundancy basis.

Currently there are 2,000 workers in BNM, with approximately 1,000 people working on the peat side.

Speculation is now mounting of other potential job losses due to the restructuring of the company towards renewable energy, with suggestions of up to 400-450 peat-based jobs being lost at the company over the next 12 months.

However, as a result of the company getting involving in new ventures – such as: fish farming; herb growing; solar farming; and wind farming –  it is intended that the initial job losses will be balanced out with new opportunities created in these areas.

Over the last five years, BNM has communicated its plans to gradually reduce its numbers in line with the turning of the ship towards renewable energy, its reduction in peat harvesting and its move towards co-firing its power stations.

‘Biomass buzzword’

Although the rationalisation of the peat side of the company has been flagged in recent years with the vision of ultimately retaining jobs, deputy Fitzmaurice is of the view that it will be too challenging to grow the necessary supply of biomass that will be needed to produce energy at the BNM plants.

“I’m sick to the teeth all week of looking at political representatives from the different parties standing outside Newbridge videoing themselves and issuing press releases at the shock of job losses in Bord na Mona.

“These same politicians, in their party manifestos, have made it very clear that there is no future for Bord na Mona under the system that they run at the moment.

To be honest, it’s not Bord na Mona’s fault that jobs are being lost; it is Government policy.

Speaking to AgriLand, ahead of the BNM board of directors’ move to sign off on its new strategy tomorrow, deputy Fitzmaurice highlighted that BNM is paying €10 million per year in carbon credits on peat to the EU.

“The scenario is that one million tonnes less peat will be harvested next year – what is going to make up the difference? We are talking about this great buzzword call ‘biomass’.

“We are living in a dream world, that is being straight about it, for the simple reason our mills cannot function at the moment because they can’t get enough timber.

I know of cases where farmers are digging up willow because it wasn’t worth doing; and I am seeing at the moment that we are going to go even as far as Australia to get woodchip.

“I hear we are going to chip it there, put it on a boat, bring it into a factory, bring it on a lorry to a port, bring it to the different ports and haul it then on a lorry – are we gone crazy in this country?

“It’s the same world we all live in – if we cut down the trees somewhere else it’s the same world that the alleged carbon is being emitted to,” he said.

‘Wake up’

He said letting workers go from a “viable company” will have a detrimental impact on rural communities.

“Government ministers need to wake up, Government policy needs to wake up, and the Irish people need to wake up.

“We are able to produce electricity with our own produce – now we are going to biomass, which we are not able to produce.

Once the peat goes we are going to be importing more biomass and our import bill will go up – so other countries will benefit to Ireland’s loss.

“The peat industry has got absolutely nothing to do with Ireland’s carbon problem for the simple reason that they are buying carbon credits for the last number of years.

“Lets talk about transport and new research which shows that an electric car could be up to 10 years on a road before it’s carbon neutral,” Fitzmaurice stated.