Use of coal to fill power shortfall an embarrassment and red flag

Situation due to gas-fired plants being out of action and wind being lower than usual

A spokesman for the Department of Climate said Moneypoint would close in 2025. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

A spokesman for the Department of Climate said Moneypoint would close in 2025. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

 

It must be a source of some embarrassment to the Greens in government that last month, shortly before the International Panel on Climate Change warned of a looming crisis, the Republic had to increase its reliance on coal to provide electricity.

Coal is one of the big climate-change culprits. Burning enough of it to power about 1,000 Irish homes for an hour sends close to a tonne of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Nevertheless, it provided 12 per cent of the electricity we used last month, up to 25 per cent at peak.

This was down to a lack of alternatives. One of Energia’s gas-fired plants in Huntstown, Co Dublin, and Bord Gáis Energy’s generator in Whitegate, Co Cork, are both out of action, but are due to restart generating power this autumn. Wind speeds were lower than usual in July, so low on occasion that its contribution was negligible at times. So that left coal.

Department of Climate officials say this was a temporary situation. Huntstown and Whitegate should be back before winter boosts electricity demand, while wind speeds should also pick up as we head into autumn.

All that is probably true – July might have been something of a blip. Nevertheless, it highlights once again that no matter how successful we are set to be at developing renewable resources, we continue to need natural gas-fired electricity.

That fuel, which emits less than half the carbon output of coal, provided 53 per cent of electricity last month, reaching 73 per cent at times. During a similar period of low wind speeds in 2018, gas actually accounted for more than 90 per cent of electricity.

The ESB’s coal-fired Moneypoint electricity plant is due to close in 2025. At the same time, our appetite for energy continues to grow. All this points to a need for more gas-powered generation, and alternative sources for the fuel. If the Government fails to plan for this now, it runs the risks of future power cuts, something that would be far worse than embarrassing.

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