High-emissions coal and oil electricity plants may have to stay open longer to avoid power cuts

Eirgrid warns of possible 1,050MW energy shortfall by 2025 due to rising demand

The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU)  is in talks with the owners of gas- and oil-burning electricity generators about keeping them open beyond the scheduled closing dates in 2023 and 2025. Photograph:  Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) is in talks with the owners of gas- and oil-burning electricity generators about keeping them open beyond the scheduled closing dates in 2023 and 2025. Photograph: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

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The State faces keeping coal- and oil-burning electricity plants operating beyond their scheduled closing dates to avoid power cuts, in a likely blow to Government climate change ambitions.

Eirgrid, the national electricity grid operator, will warn on Wednesday that rising demand and power plant closures could leave the Republic with an energy shortfall of 1,050 megawatts (MW), one fifth of its peak requirements, by 2025.

In a bid to head off any crisis, the energy watchdog – the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) – is in talks with the owners of gas- and oil-burning electricity generators about keeping them open beyond the scheduled closing dates in 2023 and 2025.

These include two of the Republic’s biggest power plants, the ESB’s coal-fired facility in Moneypoint, Co Clare, which produces up to 800MW of electricity, twice the capacity of most gas generators, and SSE’s 600MW Tarbert unit, which burns oil.

In a response to Eirgrid’s warning, the CRU says that “the intention will be to extend the operation of the older, more carbon-intensive units” only until replacement power plants are up and running.

Older generators

However, its statement cautions that closing older generators between 2023 and 2025 could give rise to “significant risks to system security” as replacement electricity plants may not be ready on time.

The regulator also confirms that extending their operation could require new planning permission, licensing derogations or “other decisions” relating to the Industrial Emissions Directive, the EU law regulating greenhouse gas output.

Tarbert is due to close in 2023, while Moneypoint is scheduled to shut two years later. Extending their lives could hinder Government efforts to cut carbon emissions by 7 per cent a year between now and 2030.

The fuels used by both emit more than twice the carbon produced by natural gas. Industry sources also suggest that using coal and oil could drive up electricity charges, depending on carbon taxes and world prices.

Eirgrid’s latest All-Island Generation Capacity Statement, published on Wednesday, confirms that since January, electricity market regulators issued eight warnings that demand had pushed power reserves to the point where unexpected faults risked possible blackouts.

Extended shutdowns of Bord Gáis Energy’s Whitegate, Co Cork power plant, and one of two units owned by Energia in Huntstown, Co Dublin, contributed to the squeeze on electricity supplies. Both will reopen in coming weeks, partly easing the bottleneck.

Data centres

However, Eirgrid predicts growing demand, partly fuelled by an increase in industrial consumers, including data centres, combined with proposed plant closures, threatens serious electricity shortages in coming years.

“We expect system alerts to be a feature of the system over the coming winters, and this winter is likely to be challenging,” says Mark Foley, Eirgrid’s chief executive.

Beginning later this year, the grid operator plans a series of auctions to attract investment in new, flexible, gas-fired plants that can be switched on quickly when wind power is not available. If these lure enough power plant developers, this could eliminate or reduce the need for older generators.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications said the Minister, Eamon Ryan, expected the CRU to prioritise options that will achieve Government’s policy objectives for ending coal-fired generation by 2025.

Auctions planned by Eirgrid could provide 2,000MW of emergency generation in coming years, it pointed out.

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