Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is "increasingly confident" that power blackouts will not occur this winter despite two amber alerts last week and warnings in early summer of potential electricity outages.
He told the Dáil that two modern gas-powered plants had major technical problems that took almost a year in each case to fix and contributed to the power shortage alerts.
“But the good news is that both look like they will be back in operation this autumn, and that should see us through this winter period,” he said.
Sinn Féin spokesman Darren O’Rourke and Fine Gael Cork East TD David Stanton raised concerns about the winter outages in the wake of the warnings.
Last week a shortfall in power left Ireland at risk of blackouts after the Single Electricity Market Operator (Semo) issued another amber warning “due to a generation shortfall”.
Semo, a joint venture between EirGrid and Northern Ireland grid operator SONI, issued the amber system alert to power suppliers, meaning there was expected to be enough energy to meet demand but possibly not enough in reserve should something go wrong. The warning came just three days after another alert by Semo.
Mr O’Rourke said the prospect of blackouts “is quite incredible” and in his area of Co Meath, and Dublin West there were particular pressures.
Mr Ryan said there was increasing demand for power but the main reason for the alerts was that a lot of older plants were not performing as efficiently as a new plant would.
“Some of that has particularly had to do with regular maintenance this year which has been affected by Covid. In the Covid period they couldn’t bring in outside skilled expertise to do maintenance [which was delayed],” Mr Ryan said.
“Nothing is certain but we are increasingly confident that we shouldn’t have to see blackouts this winter,” he said.
But he warned that the “underlying challenge” remained. Two older plants – Moneypoint and Tarbert – along with Edenderry are higher-emission plants.
“They will play a critical role in the next three to five years in providing the security that is needed but we need to get back-up alternative generation – battery storage, open-cycle gas plants which switch on and off very quickly.”
The Minister added that “they won’t run a lot but will be critical to provide power at those moments when the wind isn’t blowing while we wait for those interconnectors and a more balanced system to be delivered”.
He also rejected claims that the spike in energy prices was “all because of the transition to low carbon. It’s not.”
The Minister said it was primarily due to international factors and was an issue “right across Europe and most of the world” – and that a massive increase in gas price occurred “because last winter was very cold. There is a very low level of gas storage and the price of carbon on the international carbon market is very high”.
“It is an issue of switching off coal plants internationally and switching on gas plants,” Mr Ryan said, adding: “there was a huge increase in demand for gas in Asia, leading to a spike in gas prices, which is the primary cause of the increase in electricity prices.”