Closer scrutiny needed of ESB’s bidding approach and pricing

Government does not appear to have appetite for burden of oversight on the company

The State-owned ESB faces tough questions.

In 2019, the company got a contract from the Single Electricity Market Committee to build nine power plants, which were due to start generating between October this year and September 2023.

Four are still on the way, but the ESB cannot fulfil the contract for five others. Two at North Wall in Dublin cannot go ahead as a manufacturer could not supply parts that met EU emissions standards on time.

The ESB blames planning and environmental permit delays for three more at Corduff, Poolbeg and Ringsend, also in Dublin.


Meanwhile, electricity demand is rising. To meet that, we must add about 1,000 megawatt s by 2024. If we don’t, the Government may have to allow coal and fuel oil burning plants on the Shannon estuary to continue operating beyond their projected closure dates of 2024 and 2025.

When the ESB bid for the contracts in 2019, it sought payments of €46,150 a megawatt, far below the €138,450 per megawatt that the company itself told the single market committee was viable.

That prompted claims that the State organisation's own bids deterred anyone else from taking part in the 2019 auction.

Added to that, based on market data he obtained, Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said that the ESB's wholesale prices added €250 million to energy bills in the autumn for businesses and families. The company denies this, but independent suppliers also argue that its prices at the time were not justified.

Industry players and a Government TD are pushing for scrutiny of the ESB’s bidding approach and its pricing. We do not know if an examination of either or both will throw up anything at all, and no one should presume that it will do so.

The Government does not appear to have much of an appetite for this scrutiny. On Monday, the Department of the Environment, where Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is Minister, said it had every confidence in the regulator and the ESB.

That may be, but pressure for scrutiny is only likely to grow as electricity demand and prices continue rising. Serious claims have been made against ESB and somebody needs to get to the bottom of them.