• Open Access

Using a Strategic Environmental Assessment framework to quantify the environmental impact of bioenergy plans


Correspondence: John Finnan, tel. + 00 353 599 170 253, fax + 00 353 599 142 423, e-mail: john.finnan@teagasc.ie


Renewable energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets are driving an acceleration in the use of bioenergy resources. The environmental impact of national and regional development plans must be assessed in compliance with the EU Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive (2001/42/EC). Here, we quantify the environmental impact of an Irish Government bioenergy plan to replace 30% of peat used in three peat-burning power stations, located within the midlands region, with biomass. Four plan alternatives for supplying biomass to the power plant were considered in this study: (1) importation of palm kernel shell from south-east Asia, (2) importation of olive cake pellets from Spain and (3) growing either willow or (4) Miscanthus in the vicinity of the power stations. The impact of each alternative on each of the environmental receptors proposed in the SEA Directive was first quantified before the data were normalized on either an Irish, regional or global scale. Positive environmental impacts were very small compared to the negative environmental impacts for each of the plan alternatives considered. Comparison of normalized indicator values confirmed that the adverse environmental consequences of each plan alternative are concentrated at the location where the biomass is produced. The analysis showed that the adverse environmental consequences of biomass importation are substantially greater than those associated with the use of willow and Miscanthus grown on former grassland. The use of olive cake pellets had a greater adverse environmental effect compared to the use of peat whereas replacement of peat with either willow or Miscanthus feedstocks led to a substantial reduction in environmental pressure. The proposed assessment framework combines the scope of SEA with the quantitative benefits of life cycle assessment and can be used to evaluate the environmental consequences of bioenergy plans.