Environmental groups have reacted angrily to the announcement that ESB and Bord na Móna have agreed to extend the operation of two peat-fired power stations in the Midlands beyond 2019.

The stations are located in west Offaly and at Lough Ree.

The decision to extend their operation was revealed this morning in a letter to Bord na Móna workers from the company's chief executive Mike Quinn.

He said the ESB had confirmed to Bord na Móna that they want to continue both power stations well beyond 2019 when the current fuel supply agreement between the two semi-State companies is due to expire.

However, An Taisce this afternoon labelled the decision as reckless in the extreme and said it flies in the face of national and international climate policy.

The organisation's climate change spokesman, John Gibbons, said peat bogs are some of Ireland's most important carbon sinks and can sequester more than ten times as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as the equivalent area of forest.

He said that burning peat to generate electricity is entirely uneconomic and that Irish taxpayers are currently paying a subsidy of €115 million to keep peat plants running.

Extension is wrong for Ireland, says Ryan

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the decision shows the Government is abandoning any ambition to tackle Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions.

He said that Ireland needs to go fossil-free within a generation to halt climate change, and that the peat-fired stations should be closed down when the current subsidy scheme comes to an end in 2019.

Mr Ryan said the decision to extend the operation of the plants was the wrong decision for Ireland, for Bord na Móna, for ESB, and for the Midlands.

In his letter to the company's workers this morning, Bord na Móna's Mr Quinn warned that the decision to extend the operation of the plants is explicitly dependent on a significant reduction in the price it charges ESB for peat.

He said the company will now do everything it can to meet this requirement.

In this regard there is enormous concern among Bord na Móna's seasonal workforce that they could face severe cuts in their earnings as part of the company's plan to slash the cost of harvesting the peat.

Bord na Móna employs more than 800 seasonal workers and 2,000 full-time staff on the bogs of the Midlands and in other company divisions.

Mr Quinn promised to reveal much more detail about his plans to Bord na Móna workers in the months ahead.