The Government has sought to allay disquiet in the midlands over the closure of two peat-fired power stations by appointing its first Just Transition Commissioner, Kieran Mulvey.
The new commissioner will be tasked with guiding the development of the region in the aftermath of the ESB moving away from fossil-fuel generated power, a move which has sparked fears that areas of the midlands will be economically decimated in the fallout.
The establishment of a new commission dedicated to that purpose had been well-flagged and was confirmed by Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe in last month’s budget. Mr Mulvey is the former head of the Workplace Relations Commission and one of the country’s most experienced mediators of industrial disputes.
Yesterday’s announcement by the ESB that the West Offaly and Lough Ree power stations at Shannonbridge, Co Offaly, and Lanesboro, Co Longford, respectively, would cease to function from the end of 2020, came a deal earlier than expected and was greeted with chagrin by stakeholders.
The power utility said that while the decision was “a matter of significant regret” no viable business model exists for the two stations beyond 2020. The closures have been blamed on the failure of either plant to secure planning permission to continue to burn peat and biomass up to 2027.
“It is a matter of deep regret and deep sadness, the ESB has been on these sites for seven decades, we have worked really hard to create viable businesses, but sadly for planning, economic and climate reasons we haven't been able to get that to work,” ESB chief executive Pat O’Doherty told RTÉ radio.
It’s believed that in the region of just under 100 jobs will be lost in the closures, with a further 1,000 Bord na Móna workers also likely to be indirectly impacted.
“Peat is fossil fuel, it is carbon emitting and carbon and climate is one of the issues, one of the reasons, but there are economic and planning reasons also,” Mr O’Doherty said.
Minister for Climate Action and the Environment, Richard Bruton, announced that the exit from peat energy production in the midlands would be accompanied by a number of stabilising measures, including a proposed €5m bog rehabilitation programme and a contribution of €5m by the ESB to the Just Transition Fund established in the budget.
That brings the total value of the fund to €11m when added to the €6m earmarked in the budget. The fund is designed in order to “support retraining and re-skilling workers and assist local communities and businesses in the midlands to adjust to the low carbon transition”.
However, head of SIPTU’s Bord na Mona unions, Willie Noone, said the cash injections being proposed are “only a drop in the ocean”.
“The imposition of a commissioner to divvy out funds to vulture businessmen is great for those businessmen, but it's no good for the workers of Bord na Mona. It’s no good to the workers of ESB,” he said.
Vincent McGowan, chairman of the local community collaboration group in Lanesboro, said the news is “devastating”.
“We really, really, really need an input from our politicians to overturn this or to make a plan,” he said.