Coolkeeragh bosses confident the lights won’t be going out in 2021

editorial image

Coolkeeragh’s owners don’t think the lights are likely to go out in 2021, a new report into the North’s electricity supply has suggested.

That’s in spite of one of ESB’s directors recently revealing the value of the Derry power plant (pictured right) had to be written down due to uncertainty over “long-term profitability” and warning we could be facing into a crisis if a North-South electricity interconnector isn’t up-and-running in the very near future.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC), referencing security of supply in its third report on the state of the electricity sector here this week, has outlined how AES, which owns Ballylumford and Kilroot, and ESB, which owns Coolkeeragh and a growing number of renewable generators, make the power that keeps the North illuminated by importing and burning gas.

The transmission network, however, is owned by NIE and operated by SONI, which, the report points out, fears it may not be able to “keep the lights on” beyond 2021 without new interconnection with the Irish Republic. ESB, which runs our own gas-fired power plant is less gloomy, however.

“The owners of Coolkeeragh Power Station, ESB, told us the predictions of an impending electricity supply deficit were overly pessimistic and that there was a ‘low probability of there being a shortfall in generation capacity in Northern Ireland in the coming years’. Arguing that a new North–South interconnector would be built ‘because it has to’, ESB questioned whether estimates of the capacity of existing and future interconnection had been too conservative,” the new NIAC report states.

ESB accepts there are some concerns around sustainability, however. Last July ESB Executive Director Paddy Hayes told the committee it had had to take a write down on its accounts in respect of Coolekeeragh.

Mr. Hayes also told the committee: “Without looking exactly at the numbers, it seems to me that in about the winter of 2021, absent the North-South interconnector and absent anything else, there is a challenge.

“What would happen then if the north-south interconnector was not going to happen by 2021? Maybe two years in advance of that it would be important to commission some emergency generation or some alternatives - to bring some generation out of retirement, if that was possible, or commission emergency generation that could be brought in within the space of a year or 18 months, subject to planning.”

Coolkeeragh, while enjoying a 9 per cent increase in revenue in 2015, made an overall loss in that year “due to a £32.7 million impairment charge”.