Saturday 3 December 2016

Enda's new power plant is set to generate lots of cash - for investors

With a surplus of electricity and three obsolete peat stations already, do we really need another plant, asks Colm McCarthy

Published 14/06/2015 | 02:30

FUELLING THE DEBATE: Taoiseach Enda Kenny last Sunday announced the building of a new biomass power station in Killala, Co Mayo, with Gerald C Crotty, Chairman of Mayo Renewable Power, the promoters of the project
FUELLING THE DEBATE: Taoiseach Enda Kenny last Sunday announced the building of a new biomass power station in Killala, Co Mayo, with Gerald C Crotty, Chairman of Mayo Renewable Power, the promoters of the project

The Government last week appointed a new advisory council on climate change to be chaired by economist John FitzGerald. There were immediate queries from Opposition TDs about the independence of the new body. Happily, the Government has furnished Professor FitzGerald and his colleagues with an early opportunity to dispel any doubts on this score. Last Monday, the Taoiseach announced a new electricity-generating station for Killala, Co Mayo, trumpeted as a contribution to the attainment of lower carbon emissions. The new station, to be fuelled with imported wood, will enjoy substantial subsidies courtesy of the consumer, will contribute little to reducing carbon emissions and will employ just 30 people. It looks like a serious blunder.

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Peak demand for electricity in Ireland, typically on a cold evening in January, is a little under 5,000 MW (megawatts). Minimum demand, say on a warm night in July, can be as little as 2,000 MW. Capacity needs to be available to meet peak demand, otherwise there would be regular blackouts. Even with interconnection to Northern Ireland and Wales, it would be imprudent not to maintain capacity above peak demand, to allow for the fact that generation units sometimes fail unexpectedly. There are no hard and fast rules about the desirable margin: in Ireland, somewhere around 6,000 MW would be seen as desirable by power engineers.

At present, there is about 7,400 MW of capacity in the Republic, that is to say power stations that are capable of round-the-clock operation. In addition, there is over 2,000 MW of wind-farm capacity, available intermittently whenever the wind blows. In total, installed capacity (dispatchable plus intermittent) adds up to roughly double the level of peak demand. In addition there are plans, unless policy is changed quickly, that will see up to 3,000 MW of additional wind farms constructed over the years to 2020. Eirgrid has recently predicted that demand in that year will be no more than it was in 2007.

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