Energy blackouts this winter 'can never be ruled out', Department of Environment says

Energy blackouts this winter 'can never be ruled out', Department of Environment says

Temporary generators were among the solutions considered after the CRU and EirGrid warned that Ireland's demand for electricity would exceed supply this winter. However, that plan has now been shelved in favour of bringing back two offline plants, in Dublin and Cork. File picture

The Department of the Environment insists it is taking sufficient steps to avoid rolling blackouts this winter but admitted a shortage of electricity supply “can never be ruled out”.

With increased threats to the electricity grid, the department said it plans to increase the availability of existing generators; develop new generation capacity and introduce changes to the grid connection of data centres as it battles to keep the lights on.

The Government was first warned about the risk of blackouts earlier this year by energy regulator, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), and national grid operator EirGrid. The warnings prompted Environment Minister Eamon Ryan to sign off on a plan to import and rent six gas-powered generators, producing an additional 200MW of energy at a brownfield site in Dublin, at a cost of up to €130m. 

That plan, however, has now been abandoned, with the department saying two offline plants at Whitegate in Cork and Huntstown in Dublin will be back up and running by the winter. While the Business Post reported at the weekend that the generator plan was dropped because of a court case taken over the procurement process, the department said the return of the Cork and Dublin plants was the key driver in the decision.

Data centres open while power stations close 

A department spokesperson told the Irish Examiner there are a number of causes of the risk to the security of the power grid, including the proliferation of data centres in Ireland, and the expected closure of power stations that make up around 25% of conventional electricity generation capacity.

“At present, two key gas-fired power stations are not operating," the spokesperson said.

"There was a significant risk that these power stations would not return to operation for the coming winter. As a result, the CRU directed EirGrid to procure temporary emergency generation for the coming winter. This contingency measure was always recognised as being challenging to deliver in the timeframe.


Temporary generator procurement shelved 

"The CRU and EirGrid have advised that the outlook for the return of these power stations for the coming winter is now much improved. It is in this context, following discussions with the CRU, that EirGrid has decided to end the procurement process for temporary emergency generation for this winter.

“While the possibility that the level of available generation capacity would be not sufficient to meet all demand at all times can never be ruled out, there is a range of actions being taken by the CRU and EirGrid to ensure security of electricity supply over the coming winter and years ahead.

The actions being progressed include: Increasing the availability of existing generators, the development of new generation capacity, and changes to the grid connection of data centres. 

Sinn Féin Environment spokesperson Darren O’Rourke blamed the blackout risk on the Government allowing data centres to ‘fly up’.

“The last government set a target of making Ireland the data centre capital of the world, with absolutely no thought about the impact this would have on our carbon emissions or electricity supply," he said. 

This current government hasn’t changed course, with more and more data centres flying up across the State, with the State now facing a severe challenge to our electricity generation and supply system this winter.

“Fossil-fuelled power plants are running at capacity to meet the increased electricity demand, with a 15% increase in emissions in the first six months of this year, at the same time as the Government is talking about reducing emissions by 51% over the next decade.

“They are saying one thing but doing the total opposite.”

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