Government can't rule out widespread electricity blackouts 

The warnings have come from both the regulator, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, and operator EirGrid, which say electricity supply will remain tight for many years to come
Government can't rule out widespread electricity blackouts 

Across Europe, households face a potentially tough winter as energy prices surge and power generators fear a cold snap that could test supply. File picture

The Taoiseach has said "every effort" will be made to avoid blackouts this winter as Ireland grapples with 'tight' supply issues.

EirGrid has identified a serious risk to security of supply arising from the long-term outages of two large power plants, at Huntstown and Whitegate, which remain offline but are anticipated to come back onto the system in October and November.

Micheál Martin told the Dáil that work is underway to ensure widespread blackouts are not needed. 

"In respect of any short-term problems between now and when the two plants are back in operation in October, any issues that arise will be dealt with through demand management," he said.

"That means working with large energy users that have backup generators. That is how it will be dealt with. It will be dealt with calmly and pragmatically that way.

The Taoiseach was replying to Labour leader Alan Kelly who asked for a "guarantee that we will have enough energy this winter and that the lights will stay on".

"I am sick and tired of short-termism," Mr Kelly said.

"We really need to know the lights will stay on and that there is a long-term plan that will deal with the issue over the coming years because it seems like we have sleepwalked into this and that it has just been sprung upon us at this moment. The public and businesses need assurance."

The Taoiseach told the chamber that the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) and EirGrid have statutory responsibility to "ensure a balance between demand and supply" and that Government has met representatives of both organisations and it will be taking decisions in respect of immediate issues.

Earlier, Minister Eamon Ryan said the government "can't be absolutely certain" there won't be blackouts this winter but added: "We expect to be able to manage the main problem this winter, two of our largest gas-fired, most modern power plants have been out of action, they will come back into operation next month and the month after.

"So that should allow us to manage, but this winter and the subsequent winter is going to be difficult."

Data centres

Data centres have been identified as the primary factor behind the growing demand for electricity, using 11% of all power in Ireland now. This will grow to over 25% by the end of the decade.

The Taoiseach said action would be taken to control usage by data centres. 

"We are not ignoring the issue of data centres because the CRU is currently undertaking a review and developing a new data centre connection policy to ensure the centres' operation is aligned with supply," he said.

"The idea of simply saying data centres should be banned is not a measured response, nor is it tenable in the future."

All large corporate users of electricity could face "amber alerts" this winter to ensure households avoid blackouts.

The alerts could see large users having to power down and manage their consumption over certain periods.

In a briefing note on Ireland’s security of supply, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) said it would take on overall responsibility to deliver new generating capacity to ensure there is enough power on the system to meet burgeoning demand, including from big users such as data centres.

"Short-term supply risk has declined due to planned return to operation of generators, but margins will remain challenging during the winter period," the regulator said.

It follows a report by network operator EirGrid which spelled out the requirements for new-generation capacity.

In the past year, the system has had to cope with the lowest volume of wind across Europe since the 1960s, while at the same time ageing power generators went off grid for maintenance. Future additional demand for power has been "primarily" driven by the number of data centres that will open up in the coming years.

The CRU has now committed to acquire 300MW of emergency capacity and longer term, it will ensure the delivery of 2000MW in gas-powered capacity for the all-Ireland energy market.

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