New gas-fired power plants to ‘bridge gap’ to renewables

Eamon Ryan to bring plan for as many as seven new plants to deal with energy demand

Eamon Ryan at the Green Party convention. Photograph: Alan Betson

Eamon Ryan at the Green Party convention. Photograph: Alan Betson

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The Cabinet is likely to give the go-ahead for several new gas-fired power plants to be built over the next decade.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan will bring a memo on the security of Ireland’s energy supply, which will lay out a policy to build an extra two gigawatts of power generation from gas in the next decade to supplement the transition to renewables as the mainstay of Ireland’s energy.

The gas-fired plants will supplement and act as back-up for wind energy, and although they are powered by fossil fuels, they emit far fewer greenhouse gases than existing coal and other fossil fuel plants.

The new policy statement by the Government will signal to the industry, the regulator and planning authorities that the new power plants are required.

The two gigawatts stipulated are likely to be provided by four to seven new gas-fired plants, sources say, depending on their size. It will be in addition to about 15 gigawatts of renewable energy expected to be added to the grid in the coming decade, mostly made up of offshore and onshore wind farms, and solar energy.

Senior Government figures, including the Green Party leader Mr Ryan, conceded this autumn that gas-powered energy would continue to be used even with a substantially increased percentage of renewable power.

Rising demand

Demand for energy is likely to increase over the next decade. Gas will provide the non-renewable portion of the energy connected to the national grid while also providing a back-up for periods of shortages, for example when there is insufficient wind.

With the closure of coal-fired Moneypoint and other fossil-fuel plants, the overall volume of gas being used will remain almost at current levels as it replaces those sources.

In addition, it is expected the energy needs of the State will increase over the decade, because of the electrification of the transport fleet as well as more reliance on electricity – rather than fossil fuels – for home heating. The energy needs of data centres are also a factor.

In September the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities wrote in a statement that “additional gas-fired generation is vital for the successful delivery of Ireland’s 2030 renewable electricity and climate targets”.

Mr Ryan has also argued that gas-powered electricity will serve to fill the gap as the State moves from relying of fossil fuels to renewables. His stance has drawn some criticism from climate change campaigners.