An impasse between the ESB and the Environmental Protection Agency that has led to the suspension of operations at a power plant in Longford could lead to industrial action by Bord na Móna employees, unions are warning.
It has been confirmed that the indefinite closure of the peat-fired Lough Ree Power station at Lanesborough has had a “direct and adverse impact” for Bord na Móna operations and could lead to industrial action among staff at its plant in nearby Mountdillon.
Bord na Móna said the suspension of operations at Lough Ree means it has no requirement to supply any peat to the plant – meaning it “has no option but to take the decision to cease all operations at Mountdillon works and place all impacted employees on protective notice effective immediately”.
“Approximately seventy permanent employees will be put on temporary unpaid lay-off from Thursday, July 18, 2019, and this will continue until LRP returns to normal operations. Seventy eight seasonal employees will also be placed on lay-off immediately,” Bord na Móna said.
The Bord na Móna Group of Unions will today convene a full meeting of its representatives to discuss the development with management.
BNM group of unions secretary, Willie Noone, said they are “shocked” that the semi-state company has informed staff that they are to be laid off indefinitely with a week’s notice: “The unions have a collective agreement that is only 5 weeks old, which clearly states that an engagement must take place with representatives prior to any job losses occurring.”
“This news will send shockwaves throughout Bord na Móna and industrial action may be the only avenue open to union representatives in order to defend our members’ conditions of employment as the company is not adhering to collective agreements,” Mr Noone warned.
The issue at the centre of Lough Ree plant closure focuses on the discharge of cooling water into the river Shannon. ESB is required under its license to return cooling water from the Lough Ree Power plant back into the River Shannon in such a manner so as not to raise the downstream river temperature by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the upstream intake temperature.
The ESB said a new condition imposed by the EPA “some years after the station was commissioned” required this condition to be applied over a smaller cross-section of the river.
“While the station normally complies with this obligation, there are specific times of the year where low flow in the river can give rise to brief excursions above this limit,” the ESB said in a statement.
“ESB commissioned a study to identify a range of engineering options to satisfy this condition at all times and none of these options were deemed feasible. An application to amend the emission license was submitted to EPA, seeking to permit a larger plume size where scientific evidence is provided to confirm that there is no detrimental effect on the environment,” the ESB said.
The EPA confirmed it has brought a prosecution before the courts in relation to the temperature issue and alleged breaches of the licence condition: “For that reason we cannot comment further on the matter at present.”