It's too early to talk about job security at the ESB West Offaly Power Station in Shannonbridge as it prepares to move from peat to biomass, the plant manager said this week.
ESB intends to convert the existing station at Shannonbridge – along with the station in Lanesborough – from peat fuel to biomass by 2030, in line with its strategy to lead the country's transition to a low-carbon future and in line with EU requirements. There are around 35 people employed in each of the stations.
An application will be submitted in the coming weeks to An Bord Pleanála to allow the station to continue to operate and change fuel, on a gradual basis.
In its efforts to update the local community on the proposals, the ESB held a public information session in Shannonbridge on Wednesday evening. It was attended by around 70 people and while locals were keen to establish if the existing jobs will be retained, the feedback was largely positive.
The plant manager at both Shannonbridge and Lanesborough power stations John O'Connor told the Offaly Independent that it is a good news story for Shannonbridge where the ESB has had a positive link over several decades.
The transition, he said, should be very smooth and it is not envisaged that the plant will have to close to facilitate it. Trials have already taken place and the outcome has been "very positive", he said, adding that he is confident planning permission will be secured.
"We believe it will be very smooth. It will take a little bit of time to technically change over the plant," he said.
He added: "From an ESB point of view we want to change how we produce our electricity so it's more sustainable. We are converting the plant to run on biomass fuel, it's more sustainable.
"We have no options here. Our planning permission expires at the end of 2020 so we have to close our plants if we haven't changed," he said.
"People are positively disposed to the ESB because of the link we have going back to the 1950s so there is a real connection there with the local community. The local people want to see that going on," he said.
Asked about job security, he said that while the ESB is keen to ensure there aren't job cuts, it's early days at this point.
"They are very highly skilled jobs. There is a lot of technology in the plants. On the other side you have Bord na Móna with 1,100 people employed connected with the delivery of peat to both stations, a massive employer in the Midlands. ESB wants to sustain the employment and also to contribute to the economy in the midlands but we have to have a commercial business as well for the future to make that work," said Mr O'Connor.
"I suppose you can't ever guarantee anything really. We need to take it step by step. Today is the first step in the planning process. We need to get through the planning process before we can even talk about jobs going into the future.“
"The change will be done over time. "We see a transition from about 2020/1 to 2030 where we decrease the amount of peat that we have and increase the biomass and we will get to 100% biomass around 2030," he told the Offaly Independent.