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Varadkar 'confident' there'll be no winter blackouts 'but nobody can guarantee it'

Questions around the security of Ireland’s electricity supply have been brought into sharp focus.

Image: Oireachtas.ie

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said he is “confident” that there will be no electricity blackouts this winter but that “nobody can guarantee it for certain”. 

Questions around the security of Ireland’s electricity supply have been brought into sharp focus in recent weeks and were highlighted further by yesterday’s report from Eirgrid.

The national grid operator is predicting that Ireland could face electricity shortfalls over the next five years due to increased demand and lower supply due to the closure of a number of fossil fuel-fired power stations.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Varadkar said that supply this winter is likely to be safe but that this is dependent on the reopening of two gas-fired stations that are temporarily closed, the Bord Gáis-owned Whitegate in Cork and Energia-owned Huntstown in Dublin.

These two stations have been shut down for maintenance most of 2021 due to what the national grid operator, EirGrid, described as “unexpected and significant failure of equipment.

Varadkar said today that the two plants should be operational again in October and November. 

“We’re confident that that’s going to be the case but we can’t guarantee it absolutely,” he said. 

The Tánaiste added that should this happen supply should be secure:

I’ve had a chance over the last couple of days to study the presentations that Eirgrid and the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities has provided government. Having looked at those presentations I am confident that we will avoid blackouts and brownouts this winter, but nobody can guarantee it for certain because there are certain factors outside of our control.

He added: ”There is a short-term immediate risk to the supply of electricity and that has been caused by a number of factors including those two power stations that are closed, wind not blowing as much as was anticipated and also problems with the interconnector between the UK and Ireland.”

Speaking last night at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, Varadkar had told his party colleagues that he was “reasonably confident power outages would not occur this winter”. 

Addressing those comments today, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said that “people want more than that”, adding that the demand for electricity was “driven by the proliferation of data centers in recent years”. 

“Despite the slew of Fine Gael TDs coming out yesterday and backing the continued construction of data centers, it’s clear that we need to have a conversation about the demands placed on the energy infrastructure into the future,” he said. 

In response, Varadkar said that data centres currently use about 11% of Ireland’s electricity and that “one large power station is enough to power all of them. ”

“Of course, the increase in the number of data centers planned over the coming years is an issue and we need to make sure that data centers are part of the solution as well as part of the problem which they are,” he said. 

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae also raised the energy price crunch and questioned the decision to close peat-fired electricity plants.

“Eirgrid have stated that if no action is taken, Ireland will be short 260 megawatts of electricity in 2022 and 2023. Why has this happened?,” he asked. 

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In response, the Tánaiste said that the peat-fired power stations were not closed by the government but were closed “because of planning and legal issues”. 

He added that other planned closures may be deferred “until we have sufficient wind and gas” power stations.

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Rónán Duffy

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