TD Barry Cowen has contacted “each member of cabinet with a final plea to ensure reason and sense prevails” as today (Friday, December 11) sees the end of peat-powered electricity production at the West Offaly Power Station at Shannonbridge.

The plant was refused permission to burn peat after December. The Lough Ree Power Station at Lanesborough, Co. Longford, will also cease operations next week.

The ESB announced this back in November 2019. It had submitted an application for planning permission to transition the Offaly plant from peat to biomass over a number of years starting in 2020, however, it was rejected.

Laois-Offaly TD Barry Cowen told AgriLand that when the permission was refused, it “accelerated what we had hoped would take place over a longer period, to allow for the adjustment and proper, targeted funding put in place”.

“First and foremost, one’s thoughts are with those that are losing their jobs, their immediate families, and their communities – they have to be our first priority,” the deputy said.

“There’s a duty on those in positions of power to respond to this now. I called again today, to make a final plea to the government, to insist that ESB hand over the two plants to the local authorities and open tender to access what uses might benefit the economy and communities into the future.

“Rather than acting on the condition of an existing permission to demolish and decommission – it’s a no-brainer.”

Confirmation of funding

In October, deputy Cowen welcomed confirmation that funding will be allocated to counties Offaly and Longford, due to the closures of the plants.

“There are stark financial implications from the loss of rates, totaling 18.5% of Offaly County Council base rate income. This total is €3.1 million from ESB and €150,000 from Bord na Móna. There is an urgent need to compensate Offaly and Longford for loss of rates revenue and we hope to see this happen now,” he said.

Such a large hit would have necessitated large cuts across discretionary spend of councils. It was imperative that having supported the acceleration of decarbonisation, that such ‘just transition’ wouldn’t impact so severe.

“I am delighted that it has been agreed that the funding in question will be provided to both local authorities.

“This can’t be just a one-off, we need to ensure that the likes of carbon tax funding meant for just transition compensatory funding be channeled in this way.”