As environmental groups warn that decisions must be made about the future of the country’s biggest power plant and biggest producer of greenhouse gases, the ESB has said it saves customers up to €200m a year in electricity bills.
Moneypoint, Co Clare, is the only coal-fired station in the country and, due to the cost of US coal and carbon being at a historic low in European markets, it is currently the cheapest way of generating electricity in Ireland and so is significantly pushing down electricity prices.
However a recent white energy paper, ‘Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future’, has warned that key decisions on the future of Moneypoint will have to be taken in the next three and a half years.
The ESB, however, argues that with, appropriate on-going maintenance, there is “no technical reason” why Moneypoint could not continue “as long as it is economically viable”.
“Any future decision on Moneypoint needs to be considered against the backdrop of the station’s economic benefits, impact on the environment, possible conversion to biomass firing, and emergence of new technologies, such as carbon capture, which may enable low carbon coal burn in the future,” a spokesman said.
However, the Green Party and Friends of the Earth have warned that the country is “morally bound” to scale back and eventually close the plant because of its huge emissions output, which stood at 4.5m tonnes in 2015.
They also described the plant as enormously inefficient, with 70%of the heat generated being lost up the chimney stack.
In contrast, gas-fired plants lose about 60% of the heat that they create.
“It’s a nonsense to say that we could convert it to bio-mass,” said Green Party leader and former energy minister, Eamon Ryan.
“We would have to cover half the country in coppice willow. We would have to cut down every bit of forestry in the country to do this. There would be no wood for any other purpose. It’s not a sustainable solution. They’d end up cutting down wild forestry in Florida to export it to Ireland.
The Department of Energy has said that Moneypoint “contributes to diversifying Ireland’s fuel mix and the provision of competitively priced electricity”.
While acknowledging it is due to reach its end of operating life by 2025, a spokesman said that “any decision around its future is a commercial decision for the ESB”.
“However, given its impact on emissions, energy security and the electricity market, decisions on the plant’s future and the most suitable low-carbon generation technology options that might apply are significant for the energy sector,” the spokesman added.
Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said emissions from Moneypoint rose last year.
“Taking it off line by 2025 requires serious transition planning to secure energy security and to support alternative employment,” said Mr Coughlan.
“Yet all the signs are that climate change isn’t featuring at all in the talks between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Independents.”
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