Dublin control of electricity grid ‘a cause for concern’

Kilroot power station in Carrickfergus which is facing closure within months with the loss of up to 240 jobs. Photo: Stephen Hamilton-Presseye
Kilroot power station in Carrickfergus which is facing closure within months with the loss of up to 240 jobs. Photo: Stephen Hamilton-Presseye

Dublin’s potential control over Northern Ireland’s electricity supply is a major cause for concern, a leading academic has said.

Dr Cillian McGrattan of Ulster University said the Irish Government’s attempts to “destabilise” Northern Ireland, using Brexit as leverage, means the loss of Kilroot power plant “does not bode well,”

The politics lecturer said the earlier than anticipated dependance on the new integrated single electricity market (ISEM) north of the border could be exploited to undermine the current constitutional position.

“The Dublin government seem to be particularly tone-deaf to unionist concerns over the past while,” he said.

“So much so that they seem to be designing policy based on the old republican adage of ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.’

“That they are effectively using Brexit as leverage to destabilize the north does not bode well for any future influence they might possess, including control over power supply,” Dr McGrattan added.

TUV leader Jim Allister expressed similar concerns, questioning whether the Dublin government’s influence over the power suppliers will guarantee protection of supply north of the border.

Mr Allister added: “The announcement of approval for the North/South interconnector just days before the likely loss of Kilroot was probably choreographed to suggest all will be well. But the reality is that for the next three and more years there is little in place to guarantee our security of supply.

“We are heading into what I see as a largely unplanned transition to the ISEM which is probably driven more by the politics of securing an unalterable EU-tethered ISEM, than the best interests of Northern Ireland and its energy needs.”

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said the impact of the closure of the coal-fired generators at Kilroot, and the risk to Ballylumford, would be “devastating”.

He said: Every household in the greater Belfast area especially and businesses across Northern Ireland should be concerned about what this is going to do to the continuity of their electricity supply and the price of electricity.

Mr Wilson said both the Utility Regulator and SONI (Systems Operator NI) have questions to answer over the outcome of the electricity supply capacity auction process, added: “Both need to explain how the energy delivered by Kilroot in the past three years is now going to be delivered efficiently and without disruption. They have to explain how their assessment of the need for Kilroot in October 2017 has so suddenly changed.

“Any power outages would be devastating for our strategy of attracting foreign investment into NI especially since many of the types of firms we are targeting are high energy users.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs described the latest development as “a massive blow” to the hundreds of staff and subcontractors who work at Kilroot and Ballylumford power stations.

“I think there needs be a rethink from SONI even at this late stage and I will be meeting with the unions.

“This news will raise concerns about the security of Northern Ireland’s energy supply. While the North/South Interconnector has received planning permission in recent days, it will be three years before it will become operational.”

Mr Beggs added: “I would call on both SONI and the Utility Regulator to make a clear statement on how they think supply will be maintained. We are currently facing a lack of diversity in energy supply and a complete dependence on the gas pipeline.”

Daniel McCrossan of the SDLP has also expressed concern at the Kilroot closure.

“Aside from the significant impact on local jobs, these decisions raise serious concerns about the North’s energy security. Kilroot provided 22% of our electricity supply.

“Furthermore, Eirgrid’s own projections show the North falling into energy deficit by 2021 if the new interconnector isn’t ready in time,” he said.

Sinn Fein MLA Cathal Boylan said Kilroot owners AES should lift the threat of closure “too give workers reassurance about their jobs.”

Mr Boylan said: “AES, as an electricity provider, has an obligation under the Grid Code to help ensure continuity of supply. Before they can withdraw from the Grid Code they are required to give three years notice. That has not happened.”

Despite the concerns of his Ulster University colleague Dr McGrattan, energy expert Dr Patrick Keatley played down concerns that Dublin could threaten the cross-border flow of electricity.

“When it comes to the “fairly catastrophic” scenario of the Republic theoretically deciding to turn off the flow, he said: “I just can’t imagine any circumstances in which that can happen”.

He said the new north-south interconnector would make the whole island essentially “one grid” and, short of the interconnector being put out-of-action, could not foresee how it would be “possible to isolate Northern Ireland from the rest of the grid”.