Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 5 May 1993

Vol. 430 No. 3

Adjournment Debate. - Allenwood (Kildare) Power Station Closure.

(Limerick East): I would like to share my time with my Kildare colleagues, Deputy Dukes and Deputy Durkan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

(Limerick East): Yesterday, the board of the ESB decided that they would close the peat burning generation station in Allenwood. Some 72 employees will lose their jobs and up to 130 persons employed by Board na Móna will also, according to union sources, be put out of work. The loss of 200 jobs is a serious blow to a small community. The ESB has informed the Minister for Transport, Communications and Energy of its intent, and it is now up to the Minister to accept or rescind their decision. Is the Minister going to close down Allenwood? If so, will he guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies in either the ESB or Board na Móna?

This decision by the ESB on the same day as the Government adopted some of the Culliton proposals reminds us all that there is now a major question mark over the peat burning stations in the midlands. The Moriarty Task Force in their report on the Culliton report stated:

The price at which the ESB is required to take milled peat from Board na Móna is a tax on electricity users for the subsidisation of Bord na Móna. There is no commercial or security justification from an energy or industrial policy point of view. The argument in favour is based on social and regional economic development consideration.

The cost of peat for electricity generation is very high compared to the cost of coal, gas or oil. It is twice the cost of gas or oil. Also the nature of peat as a fuel makes the operating costs of generating electricity by peat very much higher than the cost of generation by coal or gas. The total imposition is equivalent to a surcharge of 4 per cent on electricity bills. The Department of Energy, it is understood, has been looking at the possibility of investment in modern peat power stations as a way to reduce the cost of peat generated power. If new investment does not in fact reduce costs it would be most ill-advised and should not proceed. There is a need for a detailed evaluation of the whole issue.

It is also understood that the Department of Energy is pressing Board na Móna to reduce the price charged to the ESB for milled peat to achieve economies in the generating process where milled peat is involved. The excess cost of peat-fuelled generation (approximately £30 million more than the cost of the same output generated by oil as already indicated) must be reduced.

The Task Force recommended that plans to implement greatly reduced prices for milled peat to the ESB so as to bring that fuel more into line with the price of other energy sources should be completed by end June, 1993.

The Government's response to these recommendations of the minority report is fudged and unclear. I would like the Minister to clarify the position either tonight or when this House discusses the Estimates for his Department in the next couple of weeks. What other power stations does the Minister intend closing, and what section of Bord na Móna's operations will be closed as a consequence?

The closure of this power station, together with the effects down the line on Bord na Móna and the continuing effects of the closure of the Lullymore briquette factory, will be absolutely devastating to the whole of the north-west Kildare area. As Deputy Noonan has pointed out, there is a history to this question. I remind the Minister that the Fianna Fáil-Labour Programme for Government contains a commitment to support the construction of a 120 mega-watt power station in the midlands "if it is feasible". As Deputy Noonan has pointed out, the most recent document published by the Government titled, Employment through Enterprise, is much less forthcoming. The ESB has made no contribution whatever to attempts to develop alternative employment opportunities in the north-west Kildare area. We need a clear and unequivocal statement of the Government's position in this matter. Is the Government going to abandon north-west Kildare?

It is sad that we are gathered this evening to discuss this issue, particularly at a time when so much emphasis is placed on job creation, retention of existing jobs and inducements and enticements to investors to invest in jobs. In this case we are talking about a rural part of the country that has suffered dramatically from job losses in the past number of years. It is a part of the country that has been the subject matter of repeated manifestations of interest and intent on the part of both Government parties.

I did not come in here to berate the Minister of State, who is a very decent and conscientious man who will, I have no doubt, carry the message back to the Minister. The person who should be here tonight is the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications. I hope he will use his prerogative to rescind the decision and direct the ESB to continue operating at Allenwood, thereby living up to the trust placed in him and his colleagues, the two Ministers in Kildare, by the people of the area. In short, perhaps he will do what his colleague, Deputy Ger Connolly, claimed he did, by keeping the station open for many years after it was considered impossible to do so.

The ESB has this afternoon forwarded a report on the Allenwood power station to the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications. Consequently, there has not been time to examine the report in detail yet. I can now confirm that the board of the ESB is recommending the closure of the Allenwood plant. The ESB report will be very carefully considered by our Department, taking into account the economic and technical issues that arise, before a final decision is taken on the recommendations of the ESB.

When the Allenwood power station was commissioned in 1952, it had a design life of 25 years. The station has now been in operation for 41 years and has exceeded its design life by some 16 years. The Allenwood station was originally scheduled for closure in 1984-1985, but closure was postponed to allow for continued operation to the end of the decade. A further final extension for a three-year period was decided in 1990.

In view of the age of the station, the ESB decided some time ago that it would be prudent to carry out a detailed examination of the plant to assess the capability for future operations. The station was closed down in June 1992, to allow this major technical and safety evaluation to take place. Shortly, after its closure last year, I visited the plant, along with the relevant officials. External consultants were retained by the ESB to advise on the technical condition of the plant. The Department's chief technical adviser is now examining the consultants' assessment as a matter of priority.

The report now submitted to my Department by the ESB is based on the technical evaluation and the assessment of the costs associated with the refurbishment and operation of the plant. In this context, it has now to be borne in mind, that the efficiency of the station is low at 22 per cent and the cost of producing power is high at 9p per unit. This compares unfavourably with the newer peat stations such as Lanesboro, where the equivalent cost is 4p per unit and the gas fired station at Poolbeg, where the cost is 2.1p per unit.

The House can be assured that the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Brian Cowen, and I with our specialist officials, will give this matter extremely detailed consideration, before a full and final decision is taken. We do not have any intention at any time to abandon north-west Kildare or any part of this island.

That is a very forthright speech.