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MLA's concerns over 'gap in supply' after power station outage

By Allan Preston

Fresh concerns have been raised over the future of Northern Ireland's electricity supply after a power plant was out of service for an entire weekend.

Coolkeeragh, one of three conventional power stations in Northern Ireland, was offline and not producing power earlier this month.

That meant Kilroot power station - which is due to shut in May - and Ballylumford were producing electricity in order to help meet demand.

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said the power shutdown at Coolkeeragh has made him question a recent technical assessment that Kilroot and the full facilities at Ballylumford aren't needed to keep Northern Ireland's lights on.

But the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) has said there are no concerns over the future of supply here, and there is "no so-called energy gap".

Writing in today's Business Telegraph, Mr Beggs said: "Would we have faced electricity blackouts if a similar event happened in the absence of three turbines now listed for closure at Kilroot and Ballylumford?"

Aside from the closure of Kilroot power station - which will see 240 jobs go - around 30 workers will also go at its Ballylumford plant.

Mr Beggs has written to the Utility Regulator and SONI and called for the technical assessment to be made public.

"Northern Ireland is a small electricity grid and as such is very vulnerable during planned and unplanned plant maintenances or outages that could cause blackouts," he said. 

"I have been asking for a re-think over the assessment that Kilroot was not needed."

The East Antrim MLA said he was aware that the recent forced outage at Coolkeeragh occurred when the power station was offline for longer than expected following planned maintenance on site.

Should Coolkeeragh go offline again, Mr Beggs questioned if this would cause blackouts without Kilroot and the part of Ballylumford which are presently deemed unrequired by SONI and the regulator.

ESB, which operates Coolkeeragh, said despite the recent outage it was committed to maximising the availability of the plant as well as continuing to provide "secure and affordable wholesale electricity in the single electricity market".

Kilroot failed to be selected as part of the new all-island integrated single electricity market (I-SEM), which kicks in later this year.

SONI general manager Robin McCormick said it had looked at various scenarios, including models around the winter peak without the coal units at Kilroot and the B5 station at Ballylumford.

He added: "Our results are robust and show that the capacity auction has delivered sufficient capacity to cover for credible unplanned events.

"There is no so-called energy gap.

"And it is also important to note that under the new market system there is a strong financial incentive for generators to be available when they say they will be."

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