Minister Eamon Ryan pictured at Lough Boora last November.

'Emergency use' of closed power stations mooted

Ten months on from the closure of the ESB power plant in Shannonbridge, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan has raised the prospect of it being called back into action to help deal with electricity supply shortages over the coming years.

Earlier this week, the Green Party leader said the plants which were closed in Shannonbridge and Lanesboro might soon be needed again.

"In terms of the two existing peat power plants, I wouldn't rule out them having a central role in some of the emergency measures we are now going to need in terms of restoring power in the next four to five years, where we have to make sure that we have sufficient back-up power," the Minister told the Farming Independent.

"I'd be hopeful the likes of ESB and Bord na Móna and other companies will see such locations as potential for what we need. It has good grid potential and it has good infrastructure if we can restore that."

When contacted by this newspaper about the Minister's comments, an ESB representative suggested its position in relation to the two power stations had not changed.

The spokesperson pointed to a statement issued last June, which said that the ESB planned to demolish the power stations at Shannonbridge and Lanesboro and replace them with renewable energy centres at the two sites.

"Following the closure of both the Midland stations, in December 2020, a review of options for redevelopment of both sites post decommissioning was carried out and presented to the Just Transition working group," the spokesperson said.

"Based on the recommendations and conclusions drawn it was decided to seek planning consents for both the remediation and redevelopment works at both sites, which would involve the construction of electrical grid system support technology hubs that can facilitate greater levels of renewable energy generation on the grid in line with ESB's Brighter Future Strategy.

"These technologies, which will include energy storage through the use of batteries, will be offered to the grid operator through upcoming auctions for system services.

"Using battery-stored energy is likely to become more widespread in the future as it allows peaks in demand to be met with lower carbon emissions," the spokesperson added.

Though the ESB did not indicate any plans to re-fire the closed power plants at this stage, former Environment Minister Denis Naughten said they should now be reopened using biomass, from trees, rather than peat.

"Eamon Ryan's comments are very welcome. In fact, only a couple of weeks ago, I flagged the potential of both Lanesboro and Shannonbridge for this very purpose of providing back-up electricity supply to the national grid over the next five winters," said the Galway - Roscommon TD.

Deputy Denis Naughten speaking in the Dáil.

"Both plans should be re-fired using biomass, which should come from forestry felling. When you fell trees, the top of the tree and the branches of the tree are called brash. That material is ideal for power generation, and should be used in the two power plants.

"In tandem with that, we should provide contracts to local farmers to grow biomass crops to directly service the three power plants in Lanesboro, Shannonbridge and Edenderry."

Deputy Naughten said the Shannonbridge and Lanesboro plants both had "a 10-year lifespan" left.

"An older, sister plant in Edenderry will be burning 100% biomass from next year and there is absolutely no reason why Lanesboro and Shannonbridge can't do that," he stated.

"From an energy security point of view this needs to be prioritised as an emergency issue. To do that, it will require our local Minister, Pippa Hackett, to take a very different approach to the licensing of felling of forestry."

The Independent TD raised this issue in the Dáil on Wednesday, and subsequently secured permission to have a debate there on November 11, specifically on the topic of licensing within the forestry sector.

Fellow Roscommon-Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice said Minister Ryan should "come clean" on the role the Lanesboro and Shannonbridge power stations might have in relation to dealing with emergency electricity supplies in the next few years.

"I believe the Minister needs to come out and publicly clarify his comments," said Deputy Fitzmaurice.

"Are the stations going to be reopened in some shape or form or not? If he does plan to reopen them to increase power generation capacity, what does he foresee using as the primary fuel?

"Are emergency powers going to be used in order to recommence harvesting peat again to fuel the stations?

"There are so many questions which, at the moment, are left unanswered. The Minister must come out and clarify his position," said the TD.