Wednesday, 10 March 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
51. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the discussions he has had with stakeholders regarding the future use of Lough Ree power station; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44952/20]
As the Minister will be aware, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, the just transition commissioner, outlined in one of his reports the pristine condition of the two power stations in Lanesborough and Shannonbridge. Both of those power stations have a remaining lifespan of ten years. The Minister has asked the ESB to carry out a review of the feasibility of retaining the plants for some other energy operation. I am asking for a commitment from him that there will be an independent review of all available options.
I thank the Deputy for his question. The first progress report of the just transition commissioner, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, published on 22 May 2020, included a recommendation that a study be undertaken of the future potential of the ESB power stations at Lanesborough, Lough Ree power station, and Shannonbridge, West Offaly power station, for the establishment of a dedicated energy hub in the midlands. This was subsequently included as a commitment in the programme for Government. A feasibility study into the establishment of a green energy hub using the existing infrastructure of the West Offaly and Lough Ree sites has been under way over the past number of months. This has been overseen by a steering group chaired by the ESB and includes representatives of my Department, relevant local authorities, the just transition commissioner and other stakeholders.
To inform the group's work, the ESB commissioned an internal engineering report to examine how the power plants might be reused in the future. This report was subsequently reviewed on behalf of the ESB by Fichtner, an international consultancy firm with acknowledged expertise in these areas. I expect the group to finish its work shortly and that it will reach conclusions on the viable uses of the existing infrastructure. I have separately been informed by the ESB that it intends to lodge planning applications shortly to develop additional energy services at the sites. This will include synchronous condensers and energy storage capabilities at both locations. These applications are in anticipation of future competitions to be run by the energy regulator and EirGrid for the provision of those services. The future use and management of ESB-owned facilities remains the responsibility of the board and management of the ESB.
Therein lies the problem. The board and management of the ESB are responsible for the future use of these two power plants. As the Minister knows, the report will recommend their demolition, which is wasting €176 million that Irish electricity customers right across the country have already paid towards their cost. There are alternative options. I said here last December that three separate proposals have been put forward, independent of the ESB. As the Minister knows, the Just Transition Fund approved by his Department has funded a study in Lanesborough to consider alternative uses of the site. There are also options for Shannonbridge. Surely we should have a completely independent review, independent of the ESB, to examine all available opportunities for both plants.
I do not believe we should pre-empt the review and whatever options are presented. In my mind, nothing has been excluded. I have said throughout the process that if Deputies have proposals or plans they want to submit or share, they should by all means put them into the mix. There are no exemptions regarding potential uses. The ESB does have an interest. It has a long-standing involvement with the plant and local community, with genuine benefits and commitment. People from the local community are involved. The interest of those involved is the same as the wider State interest.
It may be difficult. If there is not an obvious and immediate solution, we may have to consider a variety of options. The various just transition projects the Deputy referred to are progressing. I understand from talking to officials today that the concerns that arose some months ago on state aid clearance may be possible to address. The Deputy is correct about Lanesborough. The option mentioned is one of many. Out of the options, we may see new economic shoots, green shoots, in the midlands, including from the ESB, Bord na Móna and other interested parties.
If the ESB is so committed to the midlands, why would it go to the regulator to seek to recoup the €5 million it paid over to the just transition fund expecting electricity customers across the country to pay for it? That is the commitment of the ESB to the midlands. All the local public representatives were told last month that the report will recommend that the two plants be demolished. The fact is that the ESB is compromised because it has a vested interest in both of the sites which is not necessarily in the interest of the taxpayer or electricity customers across the country. It is definitely not in the interest of the local communities. I asked the Minister to have a completely independent review of all potential options for the two plants rather than having them demolished. He should not repeat the mistakes made with the sugar industry in Mallow and Carlow.
As I said in my earlier response, an international consultancy firm with absolute expertise in the area has reviewed the proposals coming forward. I accept that while one listens to what international experts have to say, one should listen to views that contradict them. If the Deputy believes there is an economic solution that has not been considered, he should submit it. I will ask my officials or others to examine why it was not considered. This was an open process. It is not as if people are trying to protect a vested interest that has a genuine, obvious future. The ESB is considering some of the measures I mentioned, such as synchronous condensers and other storage facilities. There are many such developments in the midlands that comprise new economic opportunities.
No, but as discussed previously, there will be jobs in the development of this balancing system, this energy system, and there will be jobs as the ESB works with Bord na Móna, Coillte and other developers in developing new renewable power supplies. On the back of those jobs, other jobs will come because we will locate the industry close to the power. That is where the ESB has a vital role in the midlands and elsewhere.