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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 16:10 GMT
Mine firm reignites power plans
Open mining
Auiron hopes to mine lignite in the north of Antrim

An Australian mining company has revived its plan to open a lignite mine and power station in north Antrim, following up on a proposal that was first floated nearly 15 years ago.

The company, Auiron Energy, formerly known as Meekatharra Minerals, first expressed an interest in Ballymoney's lignite deposits in 1986.

At the time, it was awarded a prospecting licence so that it could carry out initial exploration in the area.

The plan is to mine over 600m tonnes of lignite, known as brown coal, over a 30 year period, and to use it to fuel a 600 megawatt power station on the site.


If gas prices are high, which a lot of industry observers believe will be the case, then Ballymoney lignite will be competitive

Jon Parker
MD Auiron Energy
The company estimates the 500m investment will support 2,000 construction jobs and at least 500 permanent mining and power station jobs.

Auiron's managing director Jon Parker said that if the project goes ahead, the power station should be operating in 2007.

It will be in competition with Northern Ireland's other electricity generating companies, which run their power stations mainly on gas.

This makes the price of gas crucial to the viability of the business.

"If gas prices are high, which a lot of industry observers believe will be the case, then Ballymoney lignite will be competitive," said Mr Parker.

"If gas prices are weak, then it would make our position much more difficult. But looking at the long-term energy situation in Europe, I think the projections are very positive."

Environment concerns

Before construction work gets under way, the plan will have to be submitted to a lengthy public consultation process.

Environmental objections are certain from conservation groups such as Friends of the Earth and WWF.

Wind farm turbine
WWF has suggested looking at wind farms
WWF has urged politicians, planners and people from the area to carefully examine the implications of allowing the project to go ahead.

The group's Northern Ireland policy officer Malachy Campbell said: "With the huge potential for energy from renewable sources such as wind, there is no need for such a potentially environmentally damaging development to come to fruition."

But the company has said the environmental impact will be kept to a minimum, with the mine being opened in stages, and filled in again as the deposits are removed.

Mr Parker said that the company was not relying solely on demand from consumers in Northern Ireland.

"You have to think in terms of the whole island," he said.

In spite of the delays which have dogged the project so far, Mr Parker said that he was optimistic that it would come to fruition.

"The nature of this kind of development is that it has a long gestation period," he said.

"A lot of preparatory work is necessary even before the construction phase, and it's important that we know that the business climate is favourable.

"So this will only go ahead if we believe that it is soundly based. We believe it is."

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