Bord na Móna and the environment group An Taisce have clashed over plans to import thousands of tonnes of biomass wood products from Australia to Ireland for electricity generation.

The first 37,000-tonne shipment of the wood is due to arrive at Foynes Port on 3 August after a ten-week sail.

It will then be transported by dozens of lorries for "combustion trials" at two power stations in the midlands but neither of the stations in Offaly and Longford have yet received planning permission to burn biomass and An Taisce say the move is environmentally "unsustainable".

A spokesperson for Bord na Móna said today that "the transition to biomass uses environmentally sustainable supplies, currently 70% of supply is sourced from Ireland and will immediately cut carbon intensity of electricity generated by approximately 50%".

Bord na Móna claims it is decarbonising in a managed way that will transition approximately 1,500 direct and indirect jobs out of high to low carbon dependent activities across a relatively very short period, but An Taisce has rejected biomass as a carbon-friendly replacement for burning peat and has called for the power station conversion plans to be abandoned.

"Bio mass is not carbon neutral in reality," said Ian Lumley of An Taisce, "the company has failed to develop sustainable sources of biomass. The planning applications for Shannon Bridge and Lough Ree sites predicted indefinite import dependence. The main source of future Irish supply is from conifer plantation which is causing such controversy in Co Leitrim".

An Taisce said the continued import by Bord na Móna of 30% of the biomass in Edenderry power station shows that developing more biomass burning capacity in Ireland is unsustainable.

"In any case burning wood for biomass is fundamentally an inefficient way of achieving energy return," Mr Lumley said.

"Australia is continuing to mine coal and is facing major climate change pressures. The export of wood from Australia to avail of an EU renewable energy accounting rule is unsustainable.

"An Taisce will be seeking information on the location of and environmental impact of the timber being exported from Australia to Ireland."

Meanwhile, last night Bord na Móna suspended notice of redundancy served on 70 workers on Thursday at the company's operation in Mountdillon, Co Longford.

Bord na Móna will now look at ways of redeploying the workers while the ESB Lough Ree Power station in Co Longford remains closed as it seeks an EPA Licence amendment.