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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Sam Boal
Energy Crisis

'Enough is enough': Cowen says those responsible for energy crisis must be held accountable

The Department, EirGrid and CRU are ‘all asleep at the wheel’, the Fianna Fáil TD told The Journal.

AS THE ENERGY supply crisis builds, the question of who takes responsibility for shortages and potential outages is becoming heated. 

TD Barry Cowen says he is pointing the finger firmly at the axis of ESB, Eirgrid, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) and Department of the Environment.

The Department, EirGrid and CRU are “all asleep at the wheel”, Cowen told The Journal, stating that the generation shortage “has now spiralled out of control”.

“For the first time in decades, consumers may be left without power to heat and light their homes and to power industry,” he said.

“Enough is enough. I want to see those responsible for the current crisis held accountable for their actions or inactions,” added Cowen. 

‘Not fit for purpose’

His comments come as Eirgrid launched a stinging attack on the CRU declaring its system a “failure” and “not fit for purpose”.

In a statement, Eirgrid said that, since 2018, 650 megawatts of new power has been withdrawn from the system and has not delivered “capacity to the electricity grid”.

The company, which operates the power supply grid has called on the CRU to immediately deal with the problem to ensure that it can meet supply. 

“Being able to secure the appropriate portfolio of conventional generation technologies is critical to securing our electricity supply. It ensures that Eirgrid can work to support social and economic growth of the country whilst the electricity sector is transformed in line with the Government’s Climate Action Plan and legislative targets.

“The Regulatory Authorities are responsible for the design, rules and parameters of the Capacity Remuneration Mechanism. Eirgrid operates the Capacity Remuneration Mechanism auctions on behalf of the Regulators,” the statement said. 

The problem, Eirgrid said, lies in the system used by CRU.

Outsider brought in for review 

The Government has launched a review into the energy supply concerns that have accelerated in recent months, after a number of system alerts were issued by Eirgrid.

In what is being viewed as a slap down to the organisations tasked with managing energy supply in Ireland, the Government has opted to bring in an outsider for the review – former secretary-general of the Department of the Taoiseach, Dermot McCarthy. 

The review will examine why potential power shortages were not predicted at an earlier stage, as well as examining if CRU and Eirgrid had acted appropriately in managing the crisis.

This is not the first time Cowen has raised questions about energy supply and management.

In November 2021, he suggested in the Dáil that the ESB may have “orchestrated” the current energy crisis for its own benefit. 

The Offaly TD at the time questioned whether the department was doing enough to ensure that there was adequate measures being enforced to enhance competition in the energy sector. 

Speaking in the Dáil chamber, he asked if a “cosy arrangement” between national grid operator EirGrid and the energy supplier is giving the ESB an unfair advantage over other firms.

He called on the Minister of State Ossian Smyth to clarify how the energy crisis had escalated to a stage where emergency generators would be required urgently in Dublin. 

“It should be explained why, despite no longer proceeding because of a recent legal challenge, ESB North Wall was initially selected by EirGrid, with support from the Department, to provide 200 MW of emergency generation without due process,” he said, asking the minister to clarify whether there was any payment or advance made by EirGrid to the ESB associated with the emergency generation,” he said. 


At the time, the ESB told this publication that it wholly rejected the assertions made in the Dáil in relation to ESB and its generation capacity.

“ESB also wholly rejects the comments made in respect of its relationship with EirGrid in the provision of emergency generation,” said a spokesperson.

The ESB moved to reassure its staff amid the allegations made in the Dáil that the semi-state may have “orchestrated” the current energy crisis for its own benefit, telling workers in an email that it had made every effort to ensure its generation capacity would be available for the winter ahead.

In a statement to The Journal this weekend, the ESB repeated that it wholly rejects the assertions made by Cowen in the Dáil, pointing to statements issued on the ESB website. 

One such statement from January, relates to the capacity contracts for the nine generation projects for 2022/2023.

It said ESB deployed significant resources and committed investment to deliver all these projects but will only deliver four of them in line with the contracts.

The statement said the ESB encountered issues in the “development process of the remaining five projects which resulted in their capacity contracts being cancelled”. 

Higher prices

Cowen told The Journal that the generation shortage across the grid is impacting consumers who are now being asked to accept a poorer service and pay a higher price for it.

The TD said the CRU has failed to secure the emergency generation needed to address the immediate generation shortage for the coming winters.

Concerns raised in the Dáil with Taoiseach 

Cowen told this publication that there should be no surprise in Government circles, stating he has raised these issues in the Dáil with Tanaiste Leo Varadkar, as well as Ministers Eamon Ryan, Ossian Smyth, Anne Rabbitte, Damien English as well as with Micheál Martin at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting.

Labour’s Alan Kelly raised similar concerns with the Taoiseach in the Dáil earlier this year, explaining how he saw the situation:

“I have a deep concern, and I don’t say this lightly, about how our energy market has been regulated over the last number of years.

“On the direction from the CRU in May, Eirgrid put out a call for 200 megawatt emergency power – it was going to cost €110 million,” Kelly said.

“The plan was for these emergency gas operators to be in place for 22 weeks. The contract was awarded to ESB, but Eirgrid messed up the tender.

“Another company Tynagh Energy threatened to go to the High Court saying the procurement run by Eirgrid was anti-competitive, so the plan was abandoned.”

As a result, “EirGrid has since run a process which took several months and which won’t have any additional generation capacity available for another 15 months, barely in time for winter 2023,” Cowen said.

Chairperson of the CRU, Aoife MacEvilly told RTÉ’s Prime Time that the commission was first made aware at the end of December and early in the new year that generation capacity that was tendered for, was not going to be delivered, as promised, meaning a shortage of capacity.

Cowen went on to state that data centres “are being used as scapegoat for Eirgrid’s poor planning for adequate generation and lack of investment in grid infrastructure”.

“Data centres are not the real issue,” Cowen said.

“They represent a significant opportunity for the Irish economy and with proper planning and investment in grid infrastructure they can be accommodated. Datacentres involve years of development before they demand electricity, during which time the infrastructure can be put in place,” he said. 

There is now a “total contradiction” in Department policy, he added, stating that low wind in recent weeks has resulted in old inefficient generators being switched on to meet demand.

“The cost of electricity and separately its carbon intensity increase drastically as these generators burn expensive and dirty oil,” he said, proposing a new stand-alone Department of Energy to streamline the “complex energy jigsaw of government agencies”.

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