Minister cannot act on ‘rumour’ over claims of ESB ‘wrongdoing’

Smyth asks TDs for evidence in wake of claims semi-State ‘orchestrated’ supply crisis

A Government Minister has called on TDs to provide specific information if they believe there is “some kind of wrongdoing” by the ESB or national grid operator EirGrid.

Minister of State for Environment Ossian Smyth said there was not much he could do "if it is just a vague feeling, suggestion or rumour that something untoward happened".

He was responding in the Dáil to Sinn Féin environment spokesman Darren O’Rourke who said competitors in the energy sector have told him the tender process for energy supply was “fundamentally flawed”.

He said 500MW was to be delivered by the ESB but was not and he asked why and what penalty was imposed.


“The response from Government is to fall back on Moneypoint and the same company, the ESB, essentially an arm of the State is winning either way,” said Mr O’Rourke.

Calling for him to provide specific allegations of information, the Minister referred to allegations on Wednesday by Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen who "said something not correct had been done and the energy-supply crisis had somehow been orchestrated by the ESB".

Mr Smyth said “I have invited him to come back to me and provide me with more information on that” but warned that he could not do much if it was just “unsubstantiated rumour, a feeling, or a sense”.

Mr Cowen had asked if a “cosy arrangement” existed between EirGrid and the ESB to give the power company an unfair advantage over other firms.

He also claimed the EirGrid tender process for energy supply had a “strong bias” towards an ESB plant in its technical criteria and timelines.

The Laois Offaly TD also alleged that EirGrid made a €10 million initial payment to the semi-State firm on a €110 million contract which did not transpire following a court challenge, and he asked if it had been repaid.

“Who is responsible, who is culpable and who is paying for this failure of EirGrid and the CRU [Commission for Regulation of Utilities] to provide the sort of competition that was and is necessary to have lower prices in the energy sector?” asked Mr Cowen.

He noted that the ESB faced fines of €4 million over its withdrawal of “significant generation capacity” this year. The company closed its Shannonbridge power plant in Offaly and its Lanesboro plant in Co Longford in December 2020, which he said reduced supply.

Winter of discontent?

Mr Cowen also questioned why the ESB was being “rewarded handsomely despite exacerbating the supply shortage” and asked “could the ESB have orchestrated this crisis by exercising its market power knowing that it would be rewarded”.

Mr O’Rourke had raised the issue as he expressed concern at the warnings that energy supply this winter “will be very tight” and in the wake of news that Norwegian company Equinor was pulling out from Moneypoint.

DP Energy had also threatened to walk away from Ireland if offshore regulations are not put in place, he said. And he also noted the Irish Wind Energy Association’s warning that “the Government has a year to get things right”.

The Minister said an energy security review is in progress to ensure a reliable and dependable supply “as we shift away from fossil fuels towards renewables”.

He added that while there have been several system alerts on the electricity system in recent times, “there has been no need to disconnect any customers. It is not possible to provide an absolute guarantee this would never happen”. But the CRU, EirGrid and his department were working “to minimise the chances of this happening”.

He also said he had no response to the question of why 500MW of power was not directly connected to EirGrid, but “I will get one from my office”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times