Cop26 is looming, the Government will shortly publish clearer carbon-emissions targets and it has brought forward the next renewable energy support scheme auction, meant to boost green electricity generation. But there’s an almost indelible black cloud on the horizon. It’s the coal-fired electricity on which we are once again increasingly dependent.
According to figures from State company Gas Networks Ireland, coal provided up to 29 per cent of the electricity consumed here last month. That was the highest it had reached so far this year.
In the third quarter, the three months to September 30th, the use of coal in power generation ranged from 0 per cent to 29 per cent. It was up to 25 per cent at times in July. A combination of plant closures and temporary shutdowns for repairs alongside lower than average wind speeds quadrupled our use of coal for electricity generation at times this year, according to some calculations.
The temporarily shut power plants in Cork and Dublin are now returning to use, and, while we cannot predict wind speeds, they will probably balance out over time. But we could remain dependent on coal.
Last month the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities predicted that if electricity demand – from all users – continues to increase we will have to delay the closure of coal- and oil-burning generators at Moneypoint, Co Clare, and Tarbert, Co Kerry. They are due to close by 2025, when the Government wants to stop burning coal to produce electricity.
However, the commission suggested that we may have to allow them to continue beyond that to avoid power cuts. That is unless we can recruit enough developers to build standby gas-fired plants to plug the gap as we shut older generators and wait for more renewable power to come on stream.
We will learn early next year if this will happen. It could as the powergen businesses must by now know that electricity demand is only going one way, offering likely good returns for their investment.
In the meantime, though, our Green-hued Government heads to Glasgow under an embarrassing emissions cloud.