The future of the ESB generating station at Lanesboro was the topic under consideration at a seminar held in the local co-op on Wednesday last, July 4th, as part of the Lough Ree Environmental Summer School. The recently opened generating station at Lanesboro is licensed to burn peat for 15 years, after which alternative fuels and uses will have to be considered, as recommended in the Government’s recent Bio-energy Action Plan. The panel of speakers was comprised of Ray Hogan (Rathcline Sustainable Projects Group), Duncan Clarke (ESB Environmental Specialist) and Fintan Conway (Irish Farmers Association, Bio-energy division). The seminar was chaired by Hugh Baxter. Ray Hogan set the global context and its likely impact on Ireland’s energy consumption patterns. Globally, there is a shift away from dependence on fossil fuels such as oil and gas, due to the fact that reserves of these fuels will be depleted in the relatively near future and to concerns over carbon emissions and global warming. Ireland has an added incentive to shift to renewable energy sources given that we are concurrently dependent on imported fuels for almost 90 percent of our energy, the highest rate in the EU. Ireland’s energy consumption patterns have been rising dramatically due to rising electricity demand, rapid increases in the number and size of houses, increasing car numbers and larger engine sizes. Our future economic growth will require a move to conservation measures, such as building insulation, as well as to renewable sources of energy such as wind and bio-mass crops, which can produce both fuel for electricity generation and for transport. Duncan Clarke outlined the ESB’s plans for alternative fuels for power stations such as Lanesboro and Shannonbridge. Co-firing of the station, using crops such as willow coppice, in addition to or as an alternative to peat, is technically feasible, and these options are under investigation by the ESB. Provision of a secure supply of such fuels will be a major consideration. The burning of waste at the stations would not be technically feasible without major alterations to the existing generating stations. Ray Hogan also spoke about another option for the power station at Lanesboro, converting it to a combined heat and power (CHP) plant and using the heat produced for a district heating system. Such systems are widely used in Finland, and increase the overall efficiency of converting the source fuel (peat, wood etc) to usable energy. Ray Hogan outlined plans to conduct a feasibility study to examine the potential for a district heating system in Lanesboro and surrounding areas. Fintan Conway closed the seminar with an examination of the potential for using bio-energy crops from the perspective of farmers, the producers of such crops. The yield per hectare and the price for crops such as willow coppice and rape seed oil are the keys to determining the future viability of such bio-energy sources. The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has opened the way for farmers to shift towards the production of such crops, but government intervention may be required to ensure that process will attract sufficient numbers of farmers to produce the volumes which will be required for transport, electricity production and other requirements. Examples of government actions include excise relief for indigenous bio-fuel production and incentives for green energy and use of bio-fuels.