£60m Biomass Plant Shot Down In Monaghan

1 October 2010 One Comment by The Northern Standard

By PATSY McARDLE

A PLAN  to construct Ireland’s biggest biomass power station has been given the go-ahead in the North by  the Environment Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Edwin Poots—-after a fifteen-year campaign by a North Monaghan firm failed to get approval for a similar type of project in the Republic.
THE  disclosure has particularly angered  everyone who was supportive of the efforts to get this type of plant set up in Co. Monaghan.
Yesterday Mr. Aiden McCarron, who along with his brother Maurice, had been working on building a similar biomass  power station in North Monaghan, said it was ironic that while the North Monaghan project was shot down, many of the interests who opposed it, are  “now silent over the loss of the industry to the region”.
And local Cavan/Monaghan Fine Gael Dail deputy,  Seymour Crawford said it  was  also very frustrating to  further see a  similar vast industrial site not fully utilized  in the Monaghan area, and no real efforts being  made by the government for industrial development or positive  job creation.
When built, the  new £60 million Rose Energy plant in the North will produce 30MW of electricity,  using 260,000 tonnes of poultry litter and meat and bone meal as fuels.
The project, while  controversial,  has been strongly supported by the Ulster Farmers Union,  with the UFU President  Graham Furey declaring : “This is the only project that will save the poultry industry in Northern Ireland”.
Jim Nicholson MEP, Ian Paisley jnr. MLA, and Tom Elliott MLA, among other prominent  elected representatives in the North, have given their support to the venture.
The agri-food sector in  the North  employs around 80,000 people and has an output of 4.3 billion euros. This new plant is seen by many as a boost for the agri-sector   at a time when the new Nitrates Directive is putting huge pressure on the industry.
Farmers and farm businesses in the Republic, and especially  in the border region of Monaghan and Cavan, are  now seeing  what has  finally happened as a ‘negative’  for southern farmers.
Mr.  Vincent Carton, managing director of Cavan-based Carton Brothers, has already described the Rose Energy plant in the North as “a State-subsidised method of poultry litter disposal”.
The fact that the Rose Energy power plant has only taken two years to get the go ahead from the planning authority of Northern Ireland has also understandably incensed the promoters of the Monopower project who had hoped to set up their plant in North Monaghan.
It will be recalled  that  Aiden McCarron,  along with his brother Maurice, were  working on building the proposed similar biomass power station in North Monaghan for more than  fifteen years. Aiden says they applied for planning permission to build the £60 million biomass power station in June 2003, but it took Monaghan County Council nearly three years to say “No”  to the plant,  and a further fourteen months by An Bord Pleanala to refuse!.
Ironically, the Monopower project won a Europe-wide environmental competition in Brussels in 2001 and received  € 2.9 million in funding!. It would have taken poultry litter and mushroom compost from a 40-mile radius of the power station encompassing Monaghan, Cavan, Louth, Tyrone, Antrim and Fermanagh. When in operation it could supply 50 per cent  of County Monaghan’s electricity needs with green power.  The project was also approved by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in Dublin to produce alternative energy and had a contract whereby the Irish State would buy all the electricity produced by the plant for 15 years.
“This made the project 100 per cent  financially feasible,” McCarron insists.
POULTRY WASTE
The poultry industry in Ireland employs many thousands of people and turns over 100s of millions of euro most of which goes back into the local economy. Until recently the development of the poultry industry was seen as an excellent example of how Irish agriculture could prosper from a modern Europe. The success of this industry could now be its downfall as the Nitrates Directive could force it to downsize, or even close, because of the cost of dealing with the waste!.
The McCarron brothers, whose family has been in the poultry farming business for over 40 years, saw the need for a solution to the waste problem more than 15 years ago. What started out as an idea to use chicken litter as a fuel to power their own farm ended with a planning application to build a state of the art power station which would be the first of its type in the world. Maurice said that this project ticked all the boxes. It would have protected the future of the poultry industry and would have been the biggest single investment ever in County Monaghan. Supplying 50% of Monaghan’s energy needs would have made Monaghan the greenest county in Ireland in terms of energy consumption.
Aiden McCarron said yesterday that Fine Gael deputy  Seymour Crawford and  former Fianna Fail TD Jimmy Leonard  both worked tirelessly to promote the power station,  often incurring the wrath of some of their electorate.
He says they  fully understood the needs of the farming community in Monaghan and Cavan and how not dealing with farm waste was going to impact farmers’ livelihoods in the future.  While they  also received support for the power station from government and some industry groups, he felt  the project’s progress was “frustrated at every level which  now resulted in a €60 million investment going to Northern Ireland”  when his project was many years ahead.
He cited a number of problems that the project faced. It  was originally earmarked to be built on an industrial park on the outskirts of Monaghan town.
“This site was ideal, ” said McCarron, “as the power station could have supplied the steam from the plant to local industry and heating to homes in Monaghan town.”
“Unfortunately the site was made unavailable at the 11th hour when it was decided that an IT corridor would be established between Monaghan and Armagh as part of the peace process”.
McCarron suggested to the powers-that-be that an IT and green corridor be built instead, with the power station as its centerpiece,  but he says this suggestion it was rejected.
This left them with no alternative but to go for planning permission on a second site, which, he agreed,  was not ideal in terms of road infrastructure,  but was   nevertheless still within close proximity to an electricity sub-station,  a key component of getting planning permission.
Aiden McCarron is scathing in his criticism of Monaghan County Council and the manner in which  it dealt with  their planning application.
He points to the fact that the Council  was  initially supportive of the project during the sojourn  of a former County Manager, Mr. Joe Gavin, who is now retired,  and this was  endorsed in a letter from Mr. Gavin  outlining the need for such a project to protect the environment.
McCarron feels that when the project went for planning, public pressures from those opposed may have affected the process. He said the planning application was the first in Ireland to be subjected to Directive 200/42/EC as implemented by S.I. No 435/2004 European Communities,  whereby people in another jurisdiction have the right to have their say on a proposed development. This gave the right to the people of Northern Ireland to give their opinion, although McCarron questions the Directive  being used in their planning application. “How can a development that has won a Europe-wide competition to build something that is beneficial to the environment have a negative impact?” he asks.
He feels that the use of the Directive  delayed the decision of Monaghan County Council. Among examples of this he has produced a file of correspondence including two letters to

Monaghan County Council relating to an update of the planning application. Another letter is from Mr. Anthony McKay from the Planning Authority of Northern Ireland dated 9th March 2004 outlining its  position to Monaghan County Council and stating they did NOT wish to make any further observations in relation to the  application. Yet, a further letter on file from Monaghan County Council to Monopower, dated 16th August 2005, claims the Council is  STILL awaiting a response from Northern Ireland!.
Yesterday Mr. McCarron claimed: “These  letters are contradictory and leave huge questions to be answered”.
In view of the project being “lost” to the North, he felt the  Irish Farmers Association has also some  questions to answer.
He said: “At  meetings and discussions with IFA leaders in Dublin there was broad support for the project although some  IFA members at local level  were objecting”
”Monopower tried for two years to get the IFA nationally to make their position on the project known and to date we have not had their decision.”
This lack of response from the IFA nationally is difficult to understand, according to McCarron, because the  main beneficiary from the proposed Monaghan plant was the farming community.
He said: “The IFA attitude is  in complete contrast with The Ulster Farmers Union who  have given the Rose Energy project their complete support and campaigned for it”.
“When Monopower started working on the  North Monaghan project farmers were being paid up to 10 euros per tonne for their litter, but  in the intervening years the situation has reversed to the extent that farmers now have to pay up to €14 per tonne to have their litter taken away”
“This is now a huge cost burden on farmers which could have been avoided.  If the implementation of the Nitrates Directive forces the poultry industry to contract,  it will result in massive job losses in the Border region.
Mr. McCarron  also referred yesterday to objections to their plant from Town of Monaghan Co-Op management and said the co-op management had claimed at An Bord Pleanala hearing the plant could endanger their supplies of milk coming from Northern Ireland. “Will Town of Monaghan Co-Op now refuse milk from Northern Ireland when the Rose Energy plant is built?”, McCarron asked.
He also said that it should  also be noted that a senior management executive from the co-op chaired a cross-border forum which investigated ways of dealing with spent mushroom compost and poultry litter and one of the recommendations of that report was, in fact,  a biomass power station!.
SINN FEIN CRITICISED
Maurice McCarron said yesterday that  Sinn  Fein  had  campaigned relentlessly for five years to stop the Monopower project  but were   now “sitting on the fence” in Northern Ireland in regards to the Rose Energy project.
“For some reason they are simply saying that the opinions of both the farmers who are supportive of the project and the people opposed to the project should be listened to,  while also calling for a public inquiry”.
He said he wonders if this could have something to do with the fact that Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew MLA is now Minister for Agriculture in the North?
He said: “This  seems to be a complete about turn for Ms Gildernew who vehemently opposed the Monopower project, and made  submissions at the An Bord Pleanala oral hearing that  as a mother, she couild not  comprehend raising a child within a ten-mile radius of the plant, and did  not accept excuses or assurances that there would  not be a detrimental impact on health”.
Whether people were supportive or opposed to the North Monaghan project,  McCarron said  the way the project was handled by the authorities,  and the different crisis  that have hit the Republic, in recent years,  reflected a huge  lack of forward thinking and lack of incentive. He felt there was also a great lack of motivation in regard to devising long-term strategies for dealing with problems.
Maurice McCarron said   yesterday that counties  Monaghan, Cavan and Louth are now faced with the implementation of the Nitrates Directive which could have a devastating effect on the farming sector and local economy.
“A power station in the region would have given farmers a long-term, cost-effective way of dealing with the waste and would have protected jobs.” He concluded that if the farming community had been shown leadership from those in charge they would be facing a more certain future, at present.
Meanwhile, Deputy Crawford said yesterday it was an “absolute disgrace”  that the proposed Monopower biomass plant was not given the go-ahead,  as well as every possible assistance from the powers-that-be,  so that it could be fully and safely effectively utilized for the benefit of the entire community, the environment, the economy, and the wider Monaghan border region .
The availability of a suitable site—that was still not fully utilized  after seven years—spoke volumes for the  gross lack of government initiative evident in the region, and neither could their responsibility be shirked by those whose opposition indirectly led to a similar plant now being  “lost” to the area and being set up in the North.
Deputy Crawford added that,  despite its economic importance, it would be very difficult to say if the Monopower biomass could again be effectively  reactivated for the Monaghan region.

One Comment »

  • Gstar said:

    This article clearly illustrates the dead hand of bureaucracy- sloth, inaction and indecision caused pioneering, green initiative to be lost. Shame on the bureaucrats; shame on us for putting up with the nameless, faceless people whose systematic inaction crushes the vibrant projects this country needs.