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Blackouts and power shortages 'not expected' this winter, says Eamon Ryan

The minister’s remarks come after the UK government held emergency talks with energy companies over spiralling price increases.

Whitegate oil refinery and power station in Co Cork, which has been closed for repairs
Whitegate oil refinery and power station in Co Cork, which has been closed for repairs
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

TRANSPORT MINISTER EAMON Ryan has said the Government doesn’t expect blackouts and energy shortages to be a feature of the Irish winter despite ongoing pressure on Ireland’s national grid.

Two separate amber alerts were issued by the Single Electricity Market Operator (SEMO) last week due to temporary electricity supply shortfalls. SEMO is a joint venture between two main electricity grid operators on the island, EirGrid in the Republic and SONI in Northern Ireland.

Ryan said the shortfalls were mostly to due to two of Ireland’s main power plants — Whitegate in Cork and Huntstown in Dublin — currently being out of commission for maintenance.

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“It’s a very significant issue,” Minister Ryan told the News At One on RTÉ Radio 1 this afternoon but it’s likely to be temporary.

“Two of our biggest, most modern gas-fired power plants were out over the last year — major outages,” he said.

“They are expected to come back within the next two months and that should see through this winter.”

The Green Party Leader’s remarks came shortly after the UK government held emergency meetings with energy and consumer groups.

The UK Business Secretary said there is no “cause for immediate concern” over the supply of gas in the UK following the meetings.

Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted today: “I’ve held a series of individual meetings with senior executives from the energy industry to discuss the impact of high global gas prices.

“I was reassured that security of supply was not a cause for immediate concern within the industry.

The UK benefits from having a diverse range of gas supply sources, with sufficient capacity to more than meet demand.

“The UK’s gas system continues to operate reliably and we do not expect supply emergencies this winter.”

Energy prices in Ireland and across Europe have been rising in recent months due to a surge in demand as economies have reopened while the energy stocks have been depleted following last year’s harsh winter.

Irish electricity prices rose by almost 19% in the year to the end of August, according to the latest Central Statistics Office’s latest Consumer Price Index.

But the issues are particularly acute in the UK.

Prices of natural gas in Britain have hit record highs, also driven up after a fire knocked out a vital point connecting the UK’s power grid to France.

Wholesale prices for gas have rocketed 70% since August, adding to already strong inflation that has been stoked by staff shortages as economies reopen after pandemic lockdowns.

UK market energy prices have soared by 203% since January.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to reassure consumers fearing surging winter power bills and the possibility of more small British energy firms collapsing from higher costs.

Speaking during a visit to the United States, Johnson said “people should be reassured in the sense that yes there are a lot of short-term problems not just in our country… but around the world caused by gas supplies and shortages of all kinds”.

Speaking on The News at One today, Minister Ryan said the Irish government will look at “specific measures” to cushion the impact of rising electricity bills on those most at risk of fuel poverty this winter.

“We introduced a range of measures last year — the Fuel Allowance is probably the one that’s most targeted to people at risk of fuel poverty,” he said.

“But we went further with the likes of the Living Alone Allowance and particular allowances for people with children.

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“So we’ll look at that again and we’ll come forward with specific measures to address this very significant, but hopefully short term problem.”  

Fuel allowances

Across the European Union, a lack of atmospheric wind for turbine sites, coupled with ongoing nuclear outages and the winding down of coal mines, has left EU member states grappling with an energy crisis.

Russia says its newly completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany will alleviate any winter shortages.

But the US government and EU ally Ukraine are deeply opposed to the Kremlin-backed project.

Downing Street, meanwhile insisted that Britain was not dependent on Russian gas supplies.

“We meet half of our annual supply through domestic production and the vast majority of imports come from supplies such as Norway,” a spokesman said. 

Owing to the price hikes, Britain is grappling also with a shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, triggering warnings of further pressure on food supplies, which are already hit by a shortage of lorry drivers.

Fertiliser production at two UK plants providing up to 60% of Britain’s CO2 output has been halted since last week.

With reporting by Agence France-Presse

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