Hospitals and homes prioritised over industry in event of power shortages

Prioritisation plan says data centres and large energy users would go off line first

The Huntstown gas power plant which came back online over the weekend. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Huntstown gas power plant which came back online over the weekend. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

 

Data centres and large energy users would be the first to go off the national electricity grid in the event of power shortages while hospitals and private homes would be the last to face outages, it has emerged.

Government sources said a contingency plan was in place in the event of power shortages this winter that would see an effective hierarchy put in place which would prioritise private homes and healthcare settings.

A source said “pretty much everything would have to go wrong” for a situation to materialise where homes were faced with power cuts.

Under the proposed hierarchy, large energy users would be the first to be asked to switch to their generators and come off the national grid.

After that, “non-critical” users would be next to come off the grid, and this would include industries such as cement factories.

“At the very back of the queue, and it will never come to this, are hospitals and then, private homes are close in beside them,” the source said.

Ministers on the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change were briefed last week on power cut threats and were told that power cuts in the family home could not be ruled out.

There was a boost this weekend however after Eirgrid confirmed that the Huntstown power station in Dublin is back in operation and is again feeding electricity into the national grid.

This could add seven or eight per cent capacity to the grid. It is also expected that the Whitegate generator in Cork will be back in action next month.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications said on Sunday the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has statutory responsibility to monitor and take measures necessary to ensure the security of electricity supply in Ireland.

“The regulator had recently advised that they had identified challenges to ensuring continued electricity security of supply. They are addressing these challenges.

“These challenges included lower-than-expected availability of some existing power stations - namely a gas-fired power station in Huntstown and another gas-fired power station in Whitegate which were out of action,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman also highlighted other challenges to security of electricity supply including “expected growth in demand for electricity; some anticipated new power stations not being developed as planned; and the planned closure of some power stations, particularly those using oil and coal, over the coming years”.

The spokesman added that a range of actions are being taken to ensure the security of supply.

This includes maximising the availability of existing generators and developing new generation capacity as well as including temporary generation capacity in advance of winter 2022.

Changes would also be made to grid connection rules for data centres while work will be done with large energy consumers to reduce their electricity demand during peak periods.