Belfast Telegraph

Kilroot power station closure: Regulator rejects claims shutdown will put Northern Ireland in the dark

By Jonathan Bell

The utility regulator has rejected claims the closure of Kilroot power station will put the lights out across Northern Ireland.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson hit out after it was revealed the plant lost out on a major supply contract putting at risk 400 jobs.

The regulator said measures are in place to ensure supply is maintained and when the new system goes online it will have capacity to spare for the network's requirements. Around £50m in annual savings have been secured as a result which the regulator said would ensure households were not paying over the odds to keep the lights on.

It's thought a 90-day redundancy notice could be made at two major power stations in Co Antrim.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Wilson said his sympathy had to go out to those "highly skilled workers" who faced redundancy.

The East Antrim MP said: "People in Northern Ireland need to be aware that these people facing redundancy supply to them every day the most vital service they need - that's the supply of electricity.

"This is not only going to be felt by those suffering unemployment. I can't stress this enough, this is putting in jeopardy for Northern Ireland's constant supply of electricity.

"Kilroot has been a vital part of Northern Ireland's electricity supply and indeed as early as October of last year the system operator warned if Kilroot was not working then in Belfast and on a cold winter's day, with no wind, the lights will go out."

Kilroot outside Carrickfergus, owned and run by AES, will shut later this year, after it was not selected by the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) for electricity generation.

And the Ballylumford station near Larne will also shut down one of its main generation units on December 31.

EirGrid, which operates the all-Ireland network, has said supply will not be affected, however Mr Wilson disputed that. He said the matter would need to be raised with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster.

"Kilroot constantly supplies up to a quarter of electricity used in Northern Ireland. What they will say is the new wind energy will supply that. But don't forget there already has been days this year there is no wind."

Utility regulator Jenny Pyper said the auction secured more than sufficient capacity to secure supply in Northern Ireland.

"While NI peak demand is 1760 MW, the auction secured the equivalent of 2000 MW which, in addition to 300 MW from sources secured outside the auction, gives a total of 2300 MW of capacity," she said.

“We are concerned not only with security of supply but also that consumers only pay for generation that is actually required. Indeed, the auction outcome ensures that there will be savings of around £50million per annum for Northern Ireland electricity consumers.

“All Northern Ireland generators, including AES, have been successful in the auction. However, some units, whose bids were the most expensive in the auction, were not successful during this competitive process."

She continued: “It is important to note that the auction only allocates capacity for the next year.  There will continue to be commercial opportunities for new and existing generators to participate in the market in further auctions later this year.

“AES have only just notified us that they are seeking early closure of some of their Kilroot plant which was unsuccessful in the auction. This has triggered the Plant Closure Process which is designed to ensure security of supply and the needs of the system continue to be met. We will be working through this process, which includes a detailed review of all system requirements, with AES and the System Operator over the coming weeks.”

Statement from Robin McCormick, General Manager, of System Operator for NI added: "SONI’s priority is ensuring Northern Ireland has a secure electricity supply delivered at the least possible cost to consumers.

“We are confident that the generators who have been successful in that auction process will provide sufficient and secure generation for Northern Ireland at the lowest possible cost. Further Capacity auctions will take place later in 2018 for future periods.”

A spokesperson for the Department for the Economy said it welcomed the assurances from System Operator the ISEM auction would provide security of supply and achieve value of money for the customer.

"The auction outcome will see savings of around £50 million per annum for Northern Ireland electricity consumers," a spokesperson said.

“It is important to note the auction only allocated capacity for the next year and there will continue to be commercial opportunities. All Northern Ireland generators, including AES, have been successful in the auction however, some units, whose bids were the most expensive were not successful during this competitive process.

"We encourage AES to continue dialogue with the Utility Regulator and the System Operator to understand and explore long-term investment opportunities under the I-SEM programme.

"The Department will be kept informed as any review of the AES business model and discussions with the Regulator and System Operator develop.”

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