Blueprints unveiled to keep Kilroot power plant open until mid-century

Kilroot power plant as seen from Carrickfergus seafrontKilroot power plant as seen from Carrickfergus seafront
Kilroot power plant as seen from Carrickfergus seafront
Plans have been submitted to radically transform one of Northern Ireland’s power plants, keeping it going until the middle of the 21st century.

The blueprints for Kilroot power station, just to the north of Carrickfergus, would see it converted from a largely coal-fired plant into a gas-fired one.

The plant is one of the most imposing and recognisable buildings in the Province; a huge cubic windowless edifice on the northern edge of Belfast Lough, with a roughly 200 metre (about 660ft) chimney protruding into the sky – believed to be among the tallest structures on the island of Ireland.

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The new plans would create two more chimneys rising from the roof of the power plant, standing about 68 metres (223ft) above the ground, as well as other heavy industrial units like turbine coolers, underground pipes, and a propane tank compound.

If everything goes according to plan, the idea is for Kilroot to begin operations as a gas plant from late 2023, with the whole project having a lifetime of 20 years.

Kilroot was completed in the early 1980s, and is one of three power plants which supply most of the Province’s electricity (the others being Ballylumford near Larne, running on gas with some seldom-used oil generation capacity, and Coolkeeragh near Londonderry, which is gas only).

In addition the Moyle Interconnector brings electricity from Great Britain under the sea.

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Back in early 2018, this reporter covered the announcement that Kilroot – then owned by AES –was expected to close by May of that year, with the loss of 140 jobs directly and scores more contractors.

The plant is located next to the tiny village of Eden outside Carrickfergus.

When closure was announced in 2018, Tony Rainey, secretary of Kilroot True Blues, said around 10 members of the village’s Orange lodge were currently employed by the plant or had worked as contractors there, and that the closure “is going to have animpact on the shops and businesses... families are going to suffer – that’s one ofthe main employers in Carrick”.

But in April 2019, American firm AES sold both Kilroot and Ballylumford to EPH, a company run by Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky.

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Among the documents attached to the planning application received by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council in early March, is one from the Department of Infrastructure, warning the plant lies within a “once-in-100-year” floodplain where building would not normally be allowed.

However, the applicant replied that, given the plant is a key piece of utility infrastructure “which for operations reasons has to be located within the floodplain”, the development is permissible.

On the application form, the plant planners also say that renewable energy like solar or wind power is “intermittent in nature” and that keeping the plant running on fossil fuels will provide “security of supply” to Northern Ireland’s electricity grid.

It also adds that gas emits less CO2 pollution than coal; according to the US Energy Information Administration, natural gas can have a CO2 output roughly 56% that of even the best-quality coal.

Click here for more from this reporter:

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Alistair Bushe