MAYO COUNTY Council's decision to grant planning permission for a 100 megawatt peat-and-mixed-fuel power plant at the former Asahi chemicals site near Killala has been questioned by Bord Pleanála.
The appeals board has requested the developers to justify the proposed use of 400,000 tons of peat annually given that the "proposal might be contrary to national policy to reduce power generation from peat as a fuel source".
In a request for further information on the project, the board asked the developers - Mayo Power Ltd - to "consider and advise whether the proposed development can be operated using biomass and coal as fuel sources only".
The company is headed by former Mayo Fine Gael TD and senator Myles Staunton, who owns it jointly with a US-UK consortium, Rockland Holdings, led by Gerald Crotty. It has estimated the cost of the proposed development at €140 million.
The power plant - if approved - would use a mix of peat, woodchips and a small amount of coal as its feedstock. The developers say it will meet Mayo's electricity demand and stabilise the transmission network in the area.
However, An Taisce and the Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC) are appealing the county council's decision to Bord Pleanála, while Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) has raised it with the European Commission.
The commission has called on Ireland to implement "effective management and protection measures" for its remaining peatlands, several which are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the EU habitats directive.
In a written response to a question from Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas described the conservation status of peatlands in Ireland as "particularly alarming", and said peat "does not represent a renewable resource".
The environmental groups welcomed the commissioner's statement and called on the Government to clarify the National Climate Change Strategy 2007-2012 which continues to support the co-firing of peat with biomass in power generation.
The IPCC has pointed out that 82 per cent of Ireland's original peatlands of more than one million hectares has been lost over the past four centuries, mostly as a result of Bord na Móna's peat extraction activities since the 1930s.
FIE said statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency show that more than 23 million tons of carbon-dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere in the 10 years from 1990 to 2000 as a result of peat extraction for combustion in Ireland.
The Irish Times