I am the head of land and habitats in the Bord na Móna group. I am joined by Ms Sonya Mallon, company secretary and general counsel, and Dr. John MacNamara, corporate sustainability lead.
Bord na Móna was established in 1934 to manage Ireland’s natural resources and use them to support Ireland’s security of energy supply. In recent years the company has progressed through a period of remarkable change that has been largely driven by the climate emergency and the national response to it. Today the company is committed to supporting Ireland’s security of supply through the development and operation of renewable energy assets.
The war in Ukraine and the collective European response to it demonstrate the critical need to make urgent progress on the transition away from fossil fuels and the perennial requirement for us to have a secure supply of energy. Bord na Móna is focused on helping Ireland on both counts.
The committee will be aware that Bord na Móna’s transformation has been progressing for many years. The brown to green strategy prepared the company for the challenges and enabled us to make the necessary changes. This strategy involved: eliminating the dependence of Bord na Móna on high-carbon activities; increasing investment in renewable energy, recycling operations and peatlands restoration; and enabling new low-carbon business operations.
The company’s journey to sustainability was significantly accelerated when in 2019 the High Court ruled that peat extraction, on peatlands which requires assessment under either the environmental impact assessment, EIA, or habitats directive, requires planning permission. Following the High Court ruling, for the first time in its history, Bord na Móna formally suspended all peat extraction. The company made this suspension permanent last year.
The second part of the strategy saw the company take a leading role in delivering key aspects of national climate action policy. This involves investment in a series of recycling and large-scale climate action projects such as wind, solar energy, battery storage, increased biomass renewable electricity, renewable gas and demand-side assets for delivery in this decade.
Also, at the end of 2020, Bord na Móna launched the peatland climate action scheme with Exchequer and company funding, which will harness the natural power of peatlands to secure a store of over 100 million tonnes of carbon in perpetuity, cut emissions and sequester more in the coming years. Hundreds of people previously employed in peat extraction and transport are now working to restore peatlands, maintain a store of millions of tonnes of carbon, massively boost biodiversity, and develop the potential for new amenities for communities up and down the country. The peatlands will also be critically important locations for Ireland's own supply of clean energy as we develop a range of renewable energy assets through our estate. All of this progress means Bord na Móna is hiring people to work in a range of areas connected to the new green economy and continues to be a substantial employer in the midlands.
Regarding horticultural peat supplies, once the full implications of the High Court decision became clear the company signalled to its domestic horticultural peat customers that it would continue to fulfil orders of horticultural peat in 2021, while growers put in place agreements with their new suppliers. Similarly, exports were cut and then eliminated as the company prioritised Irish customers.
The ability of Bord na Móna to extend supply of horticultural peat to domestic growers required careful management of horticultural grade peat reserves - a small percentage of Bord na Móna's peat stock. The company also worked with stakeholders and our individual customers to extend supplies, longer than was previously planned, into the summer months of 2021. During this period Bord na Móna also actively engaged with and contributed in detail to the working group on horticulture that was established by the Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan.
Regarding available stocks, Bord na Móna endorses the short-term actions called out in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine working paper published in January. We support the proposal that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine commission an independent expert to work with all suppliers to ascertain the level of horticultural peat stocks available to growers. The current understanding is that there is sufficient stock available to supply growers for the coming period. We note the independent expert will also work with suppliers, Bord na Móna and growers to ascertain whether any other peat would be of interest or value to growers. Such peat might be suitable for mixing by current suppliers to produce a growing medium of value to growers. Should that be the case, Bord na Móna is willing to supply it. Regarding company horticultural equipment, Bord na Móna has already indicated to departmental officials that it would be willing to assist in any way it can to alleviate the current situation that the Irish horticultural industry find itself in.
Concerning sites under 30 ha and their potential for future peat extraction, including licensed turf extraction, the legal position since the 2019 High Court ruling means that peat extraction that requires assessment under either the EIA or habitats directive requires planning permission. This includes peat extraction below 30 ha where the extraction fails a screening exercise. The committee will appreciate that the company has no discretion with regard to the application of the law in this regard.
Before we move to questions, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of our employees who have worked hard to ensure that Bord na Móna becomes a renewed, revitalised and thriving company that is delivering for the people of Ireland. This renewed company is built on a strong foundation of service to the State and is now focused and working hard on the most pressing issues facing our present and future generations.