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Electricity Grid

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 4 November 2021

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Ceisteanna (1)

Darren O'Rourke


1. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the action he is taking to prevent electricity blackouts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53880/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (18 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Environment)

Do we have the Minister? Is the senior Minister here?

Do we have the Minister here? I beg your pardon, we will not do it that way now. I see the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, is here. Is he taking the questions?

Yes. I am the Minister of State with responsibility for the Environment, Climate and Communications. I have delegated authority from the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to be here to answer questions. I have represented my-----

I am not questioning the Minister of State, at all. I am only checking.

We have not been informed the Minister would not be here. As a matter of courtesy, that should happen. These questions are planned well in advance. There is-----

We are here now and the Minister of State is here. We will go ahead. The Deputy has made his point.

I would appreciate that the Minister of State hear that. It is frustrating. There is-----

No, we are going to move on. The Deputy has made his point and the Minister of State takes his point.

It is a legitimate issue to raise.

And you have made your point. The first question is in your name and we will proceed.

It is reasonable to expect from the Opposition. Is it not?

Deputy, I am not arguing with you. You have made your point. I am asking you to move on in the interest of all.

I do not mind moving on. We are here, but I ask the Minister of State in his response to let us know how that will be addressed in the future. The question is to ask the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the action he is taking to prevent electricity blackouts and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, has statutory responsibility to monitor and take measures necessary to ensure the security of electricity supply in Ireland. The CRU has advised it has identified specific challenges to ensuring continued security of electricity supply. These challenges include lower than expected availability of some existing power stations, anticipated new power stations not being developed as planned, expected growth in demand for electricity, including due to the growth of data centres, and the expected closure of power stations that make up approximately 25% of conventional electricity generation capacity over the coming years.

In September, the CRU published an information note setting out the programme of actions being progressed to deliver secure supplies of electricity. The actions set out in the CRU programme include increasing the availability of existing generators, developing new generation capacity, including temporary generation capacity in advance of winter 2022, extending the operational life of some existing generators, a new policy for the grid connection of data centres, and actions to enhance demand-side response, including large consumers reducing demand when the system margin is low. In addition, my Department is developing a new national policy statement on security of electricity supply in support of the CRU work programme.

It should be noted that, while there have been a number of system alerts on the electricity system in recent times, there has been no need to disconnect customers. It is not possible to provide an absolute guarantee this would never happen, but I can assure the Deputy the CRU is working with the support of EirGrid and my Department to minimise the chances of this happening.

The Minister of State did not respond to my request. I will look at what options are available to me. It is not disrespect to the Minister of State. It is just on a point of principle. These things are planned six weeks in advance, more or less.

This morning we have news of Equinor pulling out from Moneypoint. DP Energy said in the Business Post at the weekend that if offshore regulations were not in place, it would walk away from Ireland. The Irish Wind Energy Association said the Government has a year to get things right. More recently, we have an indication it will be very tight over this winter period. The issue of the ESB was raised with the Minister of State yesterday in terms of 500 MW which were to be delivered and were not. Why were they not delivered? What was the penalty? How much did Moneypoint make in the meantime because that was not delivered? What lessons have been learned?

A number of actions were recommended by the CRU, and each of those has been accepted by the Government and addressed. Providing emergency generation is just one of them, but more important than that was getting two other gas-fired power stations back online and ensuring everything recommended by the CRU was done. I met the CRU during the summer and its position was that while this was a serious situation, if we carried out the recommended actions, the risk would be greatly mitigated. The updated review statement in September reported a reduced risk of energy disconnection, but it is a risk we take seriously.

In response to the Deputy's question about why 500 MW of power was not directly connected to EirGrid, I do not have a response, but I will get one from my office.

Some of this was raised with the Minister of State yesterday by one of his Government colleagues. I am hearing from competitors in the sector that the process was flawed and that the tender and rates that were submitted were never achievable. It was almost like a loss leader, which we are familiar with in retail. It was something in the region of €48 per MW and was not delivered on. The response from Government has been to fall back on Moneypoint and the same company, the ESB, essentially an arm of the State, is winning either way. The management of that process and the failure to deliver seems fundamentally flawed. I ask the question again: how much did Moneypoint make during the period when the ESB should have delivered alternative supply?

If Deputy O'Rourke has specific allegations or information given to him which he believes shows some kind of wrongdoing on the part of the ESB or EirGrid, I am happy to investigate that. However, if it just a vague feeling, suggestion or rumour that something untoward happened, there is not much I can do to advance that. Yesterday, Deputy Cowen presented and said he felt something that was not correct had been done and the energy supply crisis had somehow been orchestrated by the ESB. I have invited him to come back to me and provide me with more information on that.

If the Deputy has more information to back that up, I can help. However, if it is just an unsubstantiated rumour, a feeling, or a sense, there is not much I can do to address it.

What I can say is that there is an energy security review in progress. It will directly look at and find the practical things we have to do to make sure our energy supply is reliable and dependable as we shift away from fossil fuels towards renewables, which is the right thing to do. We are going to find every way we can ensure our security of energy.