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Electric shock EirGrid warns of major electricity outages over next five winters as emergency measures planned

Fears for shortages over the coming winter have been allayed by confirmation that two large power plants which have been out of action because of breakdowns will be back operating by November.

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Emergency measures to secure the country’s electricity supply are to be taken after EirGrid warned of a growing risk of outages over the next five winters.

Back-up generators will be bought, older generators due to be decommissioned will not be allowed to retire, planned outages for maintenance will be strictly controlled and companies with large energy use will be rewarded for reducing their demand.

The suite of measures, agreed by EirGrid, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CRU) and the Department of the Environment, come amid growing concern that there will not be enough electricity to power the country during the coldest months between now and 2026.

Jim Gannon of the CRU said: “EirGrid’s latest grid capacity statement has identified a new and heightened challenge, arising from a range of different causes, that will face Ireland in the coming years.”

EirGrid has warned in its annual generation capacity statement published today that if no action is taken, the country will be short of 260 megawatts (MW) of electricity in 2022-23, rising to 1,850MW in 2024-25.

The country needs 5,500MW and, with a population the size of Kilkenny city using 60MW, even the smaller shortfall would result in loss of power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

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Jim Gannon of the Commission for Energy Regulation

Jim Gannon of the Commission for Energy Regulation

Jim Gannon of the Commission for Energy Regulation

Fears for shortages over the coming winter have been allayed by confirmation that two large power plants which have been out of action because of breakdowns will be back operating by November.

Warnings for the following years are stark, however, and further strain will only be avoided in the latter half of the decade if planned electricity interconnectors with France, Wales and Northern Ireland come on stream by 2026.

Part of the problem is growing demand for electricity due to economic expansion, population growth, the rapid increase in power-hungry data centres and moves to switch cars and heating systems that run on fossil fuels to cleaner electric sources.

The problem is exacerbated by ageing power stations, unplanned shutdowns for maintenance, and strains on infrastructure from the addition of renewables to the grid.

Since January 2020 there have been eight amber alerts which warn that electricity demand is running very close to full supply.

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“We expect system alerts to be a feature of the system over the coming winters and this winter is likely to be challenging,” said Mark Foley, EirGrid chief executive.

Data centres have become a target for criticism, with EirGrid warning they will account for 25pc of national electricity demand by 2030.

The Social Democrats will today table a motion calling for a moratorium on new centres until a full cost-benefit analysis is carried out on what they bring to the country versus the strains they cause.

Energy Minister Eamon Ryan, who is tabling an amendment to the motion, is expected to point out that the energy regulator has recently carried out analysis regarding energy use by the sector, and to ask deputies to hold fire for the report which is due soon.

Mr Ryan, who will shortly publish his first carbon budget, is also expected to stress that data centres will face sectoral targets for emissions reductions which will have a knock-on effect on the source and scale of their energy use.

The motion and the emergency measures come amid a wider global energy crisis, with pressure mounting on the Government to act on rocketing gas prices that are hurting households and businesses.

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