It was with grave concern that we learned of Bord na Móna's plans to invest €60 million in the construction of a plant in Georgia in the United States. It seems that the woodchip which will be manufactured at this plant will be imported into Ireland for the purposes of biomass energy production. This concern is coupled with dismay in the light of the closure by Bord na Móna of its plant in Littleton, County Tipperary which led directly to the loss of 65 jobs and many other part-time jobs in the vicinity. It appears that there are no plans for the future utilisation of the plant and the 1,100 acres of land available with it.
There is major concern across Europe about the negative environmental impacts of misguided policy supports for wood biomass energy production. A recent investigation in the United Kingdom found that wood was being sourced from a timber company, Enviva, from mature hardwood saw logs in the south east of the United States to feed UK biomass energy production. Essentially, the UK taxpayer is subsidising the mass logging of mature hardwood forests in the United States for wood pellets to be shipped to the United Kingdom for inefficient power production. My concern is that Bord na Móna has embarked on this very strategy which is considered across Europe to be a failed one.
In 2016 Bord na Móna imported 35,647 tonnes of wood from Africa. The company, which is ultimately owned by the taxpayer, now seems to have decided that it makes more commercial sense to invest €60 million in a new biomass plant in the United States than to make a similar investment in Ireland. This should be of concern to the Government. We all accept that Bord na Móna must diversify from its core peat supplying activity. Biomass will be at the centre of this diversification. The company's recent media promotion of a new bioenergy division is proof of this development. While all of this is welcome, there is concern that Bord na Móna is taking its plans in the wrong direction. The investment of €60 million in the manufacture of woodchip in the United States for transport to Ireland across the Atlantic Ocean, while making Irish workers redundant, is neither efficient nor environmentally friendly.
As a semi-State company, Bord na Móna is responsible through its mandate for the development of rural Ireland and its resources. I believe there is an Irish solution to this problem. I suggest it should be considered by the company as an opportunity to fulfil its responsibility to its main shareholder - the State and the people. This alternative opportunity is in the agriculture and agrifood sectors which produce waste on a scale that could fuel the biomass energy sector indefinitely. Ireland is facing into penalties of €5.5 billion from the European Union by 2030 for non-compliance with emissions regulations. Urgent action needs to be taken now to avoid this potentially catastrophic result.
The solution should and can come from Ireland's agriculture and agrifood economy. Not only would this mitigate European penalties, it would create employment in rural areas where job creation has become a myth.
Previous schemes such as the bioenergy establishment scheme, which encouraged farmers to grow willow and miscanthus, have failed miserably, with just four farmers applying for aid in 2015. Anaerobic digestion plants located at separate locations nationwide will reduce renewable gas using key energy crops such as grass, grass silage, beet, maize and the byproducts of the agriculture and food service industries and domestic food waste.
This represents a significant opportunity for the Irish agrifood sector. There is a massive opportunity for the growing of crops such as beet, maize and grass to feed biomass production plants. If all organic waste from food production and households could be put through an anaerobic digestion process in a local area instead of being transported across the country in lorries, we could solve multiple problems at once.