Founded 70 years ago to provide energy security to the fledgling Republic of Ireland, Bord na Mona pioneered the mechanised harvesting of peat from the country’s bog lands, but now the company is leading the way in sustainable technology, particularly the use of biomass as a fuel. CIAN MOLLOY reports.
In the space of 15 years, Bord na Mona will phase out the harvesting of peat for power generation and instead will transform itself into becoming a major provider of sustainable energy in Ireland and the UK. The move involves one of the biggest changes in land use in modern Irish history: by 2030 60,000 hectares of peatlands currently used for ‘energy peat’ will be switched to other uses. At present there are three power stations in the Midlands fired by ‘energy peat’ – Edenderry, West Offaly and Lough Ree – but already Edenderry is working on a mixture of peat and biomass fuel.
Last year, Bord na Mona issued a sustainability policy about how the company plans to reorient itself, but as company chairman John Horgan says that task “has been going on for some some time”. Indeed, Bord na Mona commissioned Ireland’s first commercial wind farm in Bellacorick, Co Mayo, in 1992, more than two decades ago. It has a capacity of 6.45MW, enough to supply 4,500 households. Since then the company has continued to invest in wind energy. The 42MW Bruckana Wind Farm began commercial operations in 2014 and in March this year the 84MW Mountlucas Wind Farm went live, between them providing enough electricity to power providing enough electricity to power 67,500 homes.
By 2030 60,000 hectares of peatlands currently used for ‘energy peat’ will be switched to other uses
At present, Bord na Mona generates 10 per cent of Ireland’s renewable energy – and demand for that renewable energy is set to substantially increase because of our commitments to the Kyoto Protocol and to the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Last year, renewable energy contributed to 9.1 per of total energy consumption in the Republic, but by 2020 that proportion must increase to 16 per cent and by 2030 it must reach 27 per cent. It’s no wonder that Bord na Móna is currently branding itself with the logo ‘Naturally Driven’.
In fact, the organisation comprises quite a broad range of commercial activities including Powergen, biomass, horticulture, fuels, resource recovery and, of course, peat. Among the general public it’s probably best known for the peat briquette and it is also well-known for producing peat-based horticulture products.
In the domestic fuel market, Bord na Mona claims to be the leading manufacturer and distributor of solid fuel products in the residential heating market. In addition to peat briquettes, its domestic fuel portfolio includes Black Diamond Coal and the Firelog and Firepak packaged fuel products. The company is now developing biomass briquettes using sustainable raw materials and it aims to be the biggest supplier of sustainable domestic fuel in Ireland and the UK by 2030. Also, at present, the company has a planning permission application to build an Ovoid smokeless fuel plant in Foynes, Co Limerick, designed to manufacture lower-carbon fuels.
In horticulture, BnM exports grwoth media (compost) to more than 30 countries, including China and Taiwan. This year it achieved 20 per cent growth in its UK horticultural sales and signed a three year supply contract with Britain’s largest chain of garden centres. At present, one in four UK gardeners use Bord na Mona products.
The company is also behind Powergen, which claims the title of Ireland’s leading low-carbon electricity generator. It generates electricity using wind energy, biomass, biogas and other renewable energy technologies, all supported by a flexible thermal plant, the 116MW gas-turbine Cushalling peaking plant located beside Edenderry Power Station. More than 50% of electricity generated by BnM/Powergen is carbon neutral.
With many bogs having yielded the last of their industrial (and non-industrial) peat harvests, one of the main new uses for these cutaways is for the development of onshore wind farms.
Last year, Bord Na Mona powered the equivalent of 114,000 homes using renewable energy, just under half (48.3 per cent of the total energy it generated); by 2020, it will power the equivalent of nearly twice that, 221,000 homes, with renewable energy (70.3 per cent of its expected energy portfolio); by 2025, that equivalent will be 385,000 homes (85.9 per cent of its portfolio) and by 2030 that equivalent figure will be 616,000 homes (about 96.3 per cent of its portfolio). The 2030 figure is probably as close as it is possible to get to being a 100 per cent renewable energy provider, given the need for using gas-turbine peaking plants to respond rapidly to any surges in demand or fluctuations in supply from wind and solar energy.
“Moving to environmentally friendly renewable energy sources is imperative and we intend to lead that change with the transition to peat free electricity generation by 2030, says the company’s chairman John Horgan, “We see this as an opportunity to provide energy security for the future. By repositioning and restructuring, we will ensure the future success and sustainability of our business for the benefit of all our key stakeholders – customers, suppliers, employees, communities and the State.
“Transformation will be driven by new uses of our landbank. Our focus is on developing businesses with an understanding of the need to work in harmony with the natural environment and guided by our sustainability principles – economic, social and environmental.”
In waste collection and waste recovery, AES Bord na Móna has 103,000 domestic customers and 4,000 business customers in the Midlands. Last year, it processed 1m tonnes of waste, 73 per cent of which was diverted from landfill. At present, the company is looking to develop a new inorganic horticultural growing medium using a combination of fly ash from its Edenderry Power Plant and waste glass.
In the last year, the way ahead for the company’s transformation was made clearer when the company reached an agreement with its 2,000 plus employees on a comprehensive programme to facilitate change between now and 20019. Managing director Mike Quinn says: “The agreement is wide-ranging in its scope, encompassing: mechanisms to reduce our cost base, particularly in the Peat business, changes in pay systems and progression linked to the achievement of specific agreed levels of cost reduction.
“The significance of this cannot be underestimated. It facilitates the implementation, through partnership, of the changes required to ensure an economically viable business into the future.”
A company spokesman adds: “All our employees have been asked to commit to the delivery of our transformation plans for the future of the Group and they have responded positively. Our staffs are tremendously hardworking and dedicated to the success of our company. Bord na Móna is a substantial employer across the Midlands of Ireland.
“For the company to succeed in the ambitious goals that we have set, the critical factor will be our people, as they are the most important resource we have. Bord na Móna has strong links going back generations in the communities we serve. We live in those communities and work in those communities and we are deeply invested in creating the brightest possible future for them.” D