EPA prosecuting ESB over water discharges into Shannon

Action relates to temperature of cooling water discharged from Lough Ree plant

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed it is prosecuting the ESB for alleged environmental breaches in the operation of Lough Ree power plant in Co Longford.

The action relates to the temperature of cooling water discharged from the facility in Lanesborough into the river Shannon and possible breaches of its operating licence issued by the agency.

Because of court proceedings, “we cannot comment further on the matter at present”, an EPA spokeswoman said.

Last week, the ESB said it had decided to suspend operation of the plant, which is the third-largest peat-burning power station in the country, “for the coming weeks”.


“ESB has sought an amendment to its environmental licence in relation to its cooling water discharge temperature in the river Shannon, which in this regard is of particular relevance during the summer months,” it said on Friday.

The discharges, it is understood, were causing concern over the wellbeing of fish in a local fishery and other wildlife species on the river.

The closure is also affecting Bord na Móna operations nearby, where up to 50 people are employed in the transport and delivery of milled peat from nearby bogs into the station.


In a further statement to The Irish Times, the ESB said it was “required under its licence to return cooling water from the station back into the river Shannon in such a manner so as not to raise the downstream river temperature by more than 1.5 degrees above the upstream intake temperature”.

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,” added a spokesman for the utility. At no time has the station sought to raise the cooling water discharge temperature, he said.

Last year, the ESB commissioned a study to identify a range of engineering options that would enable it to satisfy this condition at all times “and none of these options were deemed feasible”.

It evaluated 12 options, ranging in cost from €1.8 million up to €21.7 million, including using the water for a district heating system in the locality.

Fianna Fáil politicians Barry Cowen, a TD for Offaly, and Cllr Eamon Dooley have also sought clarification from the ESB regarding the temperature of cooling water discharged into the Shannon from the West Offaly Power Station at Shannonbridge.

"I am very concerned that a similar situation will develop at Shannonbridge. If this were to happen it will have negative knock-on effects for Bord na Móna workers at Blackwater and Boora," Cllr Dooley told the Offaly Express.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times