And with private suppliers expected to secure a larger share of the market, consumers could be faced with higher electricity bills.
Those are the claims of the trade unions representing 6,000 ESB workers who meet next Thursday to discuss their futures.
The ESB board yesterday approved the closure of 1300 megawatts of generation by 2010 in return for permission from the Commission for Energy Regulation to construct a new 430MW station at Aghada, Co Cork. The rest of the shortfall will be made up of private competitors.
The move reduces the ESB’s power generation to 27% by 2010 from 44%.
However, according to the union’s Davy Naughton, there are currently only plans to build three stations producing 1,200 megawatts between them by the time the ESB plants close in 2010 and the demand for electricity will have grown by three to four per cent each year until then.
That is also not taking into account the fact that the existing electricity supply in Ireland is already stretched to capacity with a number of shortage alerts in recent years.
The 1,200MW to come on stream encompasses the station at Aghada; Bord Gáis’s proposed station at Whitegate, Co Cork, and the Viridian group’s second generation facility at Huntstown, which is at an advanced stage of construction.
The Quinn Group has plans for a further 900 megawatts at plants in Louth and Galway, but it is predicted that those will not be on stream by 2010 when the ESB plants have closed.
There is no indication from any side that the plants, earmarked for closure, cannot continue to operate but according to new energy minister Eamon Ryan, all have been in operation for between 30 and 40 years and would pose safety issues so close to the end of their lifetime.
The unions want to know why the Government will not let the ESB replace the plants itself rather than bringing in more expensive private interests.
“In the past when the ESB had 100% of the electricity market, we had the cheapest electricity in Europe. Now the private sector has been brought in, we have 50% and the electricity is among the most expensive in Europe,” said Mr Naughton. “It would appear the government will not be happy until they have the electricity market operating at the same level of efficiency as the health service.”
The unions remain committed to their opposition to the transfer of the electricity transmission grid from the ESB to EirGrid. If this happens, their members will withdraw their services and if that happens, they claim, the grid cannot operate.