A Government decision to introduce a new subsidy for three power plants in the midlands, which assists them to keep burning peat until 2030, has been challenged at EU level.
Friends of the Irish Environment has told the European Commission the emissions generated by the stations will result in EU Environmental fines of at least €50million per year.
The campaign group wants the EU to tell the Government the subsidies are not in accordance with agreed Irish or EU environmental policies and greenhouse gas emissions targets.
The group accused the Government of a sleight of hand in replacing a subsidy scheme for burning 100 per cent peat which is due to finally run out in 2019, with a new subsidy which allows peat burning to continue when “cofired” with at least 30 per cent wood biomass.
The plants are the Bord na Móna power plant at Edenderry in Co Offaly and ESB plants at Shannonbridge Co Offaly and Lanesborough.
All three plants previously burned milled peat by itself, assisted by a Government subsidy of €115 million in 2016. The subsidy for burning peat by itself ended in 2016 at the Edenderry plant and it is scheduled to end for the other two plants in 2019.
According to the Government’s own Climate Change Advisory Council, the ending of the peat-only subsidy in 2019 would make “peat-fired electricity generation commercially unviable”.
The advisory council’s 2018 review said: “In the absence of a new subsidy, this would end peat-fired electricity generation in Ireland.”
It added that a new subsidy for biomass co-fired with peat “ would be an environmentally harmful subsidy resulting in substantially higher emissions of greenhouse gases at significant direct cost to the nation”.
Friends of the Irish Environment’s claim the new subsidy is “just a device to assist the continued burning of peat”.
In response the ESB said it was “exploring” the conversion of its power plants at Shannonbridge and Lanesborough “from peat to sustainable biomass on a phased basis”.
It said by 2030 at least 40 per cent of generation will come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass, “which will greatly reduce the carbon intensity of our generation portfolio”.
A statement said the two ESB plants had a strong connection with local communities in the midlands, since the 1950s.
“Assuming the appropriate planning permissions are secured and the business case for investment is made, with minimal interventions we will use the existing generation infrastructure to immediately transition to cleaner renewable energy by reducing peat intake and replacing it with biomass. The plants would ultimately transition to become fully-biomass powered stations by the late 2020s,” the company said.
A spokesman for Bord na Móna said the organisation was currently burning in excess of 40 per cent biomass at Edenderry and was “fully compliant” with all necessary regulations and relevant conditions.
Minister for Environment Denis Naughten was not available for comment on the challenge. Mr Naughten has previously said the continued operation of the power plants provided for the transfer to “green energy”.