An electricity shortfall forced the Republic to buy emergency power from Britain earlier this month for about €14 million, it has emerged.
Eamon Ryan, Minister for Communications, Energy and Climate Change, did not rule out the risk of power cuts this winter early on Wednesday following warnings from electricity grid operator Eirgrid and the utilities regulator.
It emerged later that, this month, the Republic bought emergency electricity supplies from Britain via the east-west interconnector, a power line connecting the two countries, for an estimated £12 million (€13.9 million).
Sammy Wilson, Democratic Unionist Party member of the British parliament for East Antrim, claimed that the Government did the deal last week, and indicated that the £12 million bill would be passed on to electricity consumers.
However, it is understood that the Republic bought the power earlier in September, not last week, and that the sum involved was close to £12 million, but not quite that amount.
The electricity was bought after generators in the Republic were unable to provide power that they had earlier committed to selling to the wholesale market, so the interconnector was used to bridge the gap.
As it was an emergency purchase, the cost of the power was high. When this happens, electricity market overseers pass the extra charge for the energy on to the generators who fail to deliver on their commitments.
The Republic sought the electricity during a period when wind speeds were low, leaving renewable power generators unable to supply energy. Two gas-fired plants were also out of action.
Low wind speeds and temporary power-plant shutdowns have dogged the Republic’s electricity supplies since the beginning of this year. Regulators have issued eight warnings about stretched capacity since January.
The east-west interconnector, running from Co Meath to Wales, is one of two power lines linking Ireland with Britain through which electricity can be imported or exported. The other runs south-north from Islandmagee in Co Antrim to Scotland.
National grid operator Eirgrid and the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) yesterday published documents saying power-plant closures rising demand would continue to put pressure on the Republic’s electricity supplies.
Eirgrid plans auctions beginning next year to attract investment in flexible gas-fired generators to support the growing amount of wind-energy on the system.
The CRU also proposes keeping coal- and oil-burning generators open beyond their scheduled closing dates in 2023 and 2025 if they are needed to avoid power cuts.
The Department of Communications, Energy and Climate Change did not comment on Mr Wilson’s remarks.