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Peat biomass subsidy challenged
Monday August 27, 2018 22:03 by foie - Friends of Irish Environment
Press Release - Friends of the Irish Environment -20th Aug 2018
Indirect support to burning peat through a Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy to support electricity generation from three peat powered plants when co-fired with biomass has been challenged as it is leading to significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the price of biomass to home users, forcing them to use more fossil fuels.
The claim comes in formal letters to European Commissioner for Climate Action, Mr. Miguel Arias Cañete, and Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan from the Irish environmental charity Friends of the Irish Environment [FIE].  They have told the Commissioners they believe the subsidy undermines the ‘duty of sincere and loyal cooperation between EU member states’.
FIE supports its arguments by drawing the Commissioner’s attention to the Climate Change Advisory Council Report to the Government of July 2018 which states that ‘Peat is a high-carbon fuel whether burned alone or co-fired with biomass. Government resources should not support measures that lead to increases in emissions.’ The Report concludes that ‘The bio-mass subsidy for peat power plants is an environmentally harmful subsidy resulting in substantially higher emissions of greenhouse gases at significant direct cost to the nation.’ 
The FIE submission substantiates this by citing the Irish Environmental Protection Agency’s May 2018 EPA publication ‘Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections 2017-2035’ which states that the subsidy will lead to increased annual emissions of over 2Mt CO2 per year.  Over the period 2013 - 2020 Ireland is projected to cumulatively exceed its compliance obligations by approximately 17 Mt CO2.
Not only is the subsidy, proposed by the current Government in December 2017, going to lead to increased emissions, but it also is undermining the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat, originally described by the Minister as ‘a tangible and viable measure that will kick start the biomass sector’. The subsidy will undermine the 2020 12% target for renewable home heating by forcing more fossil fuel use for home heating than would otherwise be the case. The heating sector is the largest user of energy in Ireland.
The EPA ‘Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections 2017-2035’ confirms that ‘the increased use of biomass for co-firing with peat in the power generation sector is reducing the available resource for use in the industry sector. This increases the price of biomass and hence reduces the uptake of biomass for heat in end-use sectors. Consequently, energy demand in affected end-use sectors is being met by more fossil fuels because of the biomass subsidy of peat powered plants.’ 
FIE’s submissions ask the Commissioners to investigate if the detailed implementation of the scheme to keep Ireland’s three peat power station running on 70% fossil fuels is permitted because it is leading to the opposite results to those intended by the EU legislation under which it operates.
The call is echoed by a letter from more than 30 conservation and environmental justice organizations in the Southern United States to the Irish government, the Electricity Supply Board [ESB] and Bord na Móna pointing out that the wood pellet to the company plans to import come from their region, the North Atlantic Coastal Plain. Their coastal hardwood forests are at the heart of the world’s 36th biodiversity hotspot and are being felled with no legal obligation to replant.  The EU Renewable Energy Directive bans the use of ‘raw material obtained from land with high biodiversity value’, stating this applies ‘inside or outside of the territory of the community.’
Tony Lowes +353 (0)27 74 771 / +353 (0)87 2176316
Daithí Ó hÉalaithe (Irish language) +353 (0)87 6178852
Ireland’s three peat fired electricity plants were constructed between 2000 and 2004 in spite of FIE and other Irish environmental NGOs objections at European level. Burning milled peat, the plants relied on a Public Service Obligation (PSO) subsidy which the European Commission approved. The PSO supporting 100% peat burning ended for Edenderry in 2016 and will end for the other two power plants in 2019. It s now being replaced by a PSO to support electricity generation from 30% biomass co-fired with peat until 2026, reducing to closure in 2030. The biomass co-firing subsidy is already in place at Edenderry and will be extended to Laneborough and Shannonbridge, up to and including 2026, allowing operations to continue to 2030.
 Climate Change Advisory Council Annual Report 2018
‘Peat-fired electricity generation is committed to end by 2030. These announcements are in line with a commitment by the ESB to reduce the carbon intensity of its emissions to below 200 grams of carbon dioxide per kilo Watt hour (g CO2 /kWh) by 2030, meaning that there will be no peat or coal in its generation portfolio by 2030. However, projections under the ‘with additional measures’ scenario show an increase in emissions associated with electricity generation until 2030, largely associated with indirect support to peat through a Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy to support electricity generation from biomass co-fired with peat.
‘A commitment to launch a support scheme for renewable heat, announced in 2017, is a welcome development to address emissions and low-carbon transition in the commercial and industrial sectors. To ensure that anticipated deployment levels are achieved it will be important to ensure that supply chains for renewable fuels, conversion of heating systems and installation of renewable energy-based systems are secure. This could be undermined by planned support for co-firing of biomass with peat in electricity generation.
‘The Council is very concerned by the plans for the continued support for peat indirectly through a subsidy for biomass co-fired with peat. Support for electricity generation from co-firing of peat with biomass is projected to lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions up to 2030 and will not assist in meeting climate change targets. Peat is a high-carbon fuel whether burned alone or co-fired with biomass. Government resources should not support measures that lead to increases in emissions.
 Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections 2017-2035