The State may need to operate coal and oil-burning electricity plants beyond their scheduled closing dates in order to avoid power cuts.
The development comes as a likely blow to the Government’s climate change ambitions, according to The Irish Times.
Eirgrid, the national electricity grid operator, will warn on Wednesday that rising demand and power plant closures could leave the Republic with an energy shortfall of 1,050 megawatts (MW), one fifth of its peak requirements, by 2025.
In an attempt to prevent an energy crisis, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) is in talks with gas and oil-burning electricity generators about keeping them open beyond scheduled closing dates in 2023 and 2025.
These include two of the Republic’s biggest power plants, the ESB’s coal-fired facility in Moneypoint, Co Clare which is due to close in 2025 and SSE’s oil-burning Tarbert unit which is due to close in 2023.
Extending the plants’ lives could set the Government’s target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions back by 7 per cent a year between now and 2030.
The fuels used by both emit more than twice the carbon produced by natural gas.
The CRU has said that “the intention will be to extend the operation of the older, more carbon-intensive units” only until replacement power plants are up and running.
It cautioned that closing older generators between 2023 and 2025 could give rise to “significant risks to system security” as replacement electricity plants may not be ready on time.
Moneypoint can produce up to 800MW of electricity, twice the capacity of most gas generators, while the Tarbert facility produces 600MW.
The regulator also confirmed that extending the plants’ operation could require new planning permission, licensing derogations or “other decisions” relating to the Industrial Emissions Directive, the EU law regulating greenhouse gas output.
Industry sources have suggested that continued use of coal and oil could drive up electricity charges, depending on carbon taxes and world prices.
Eirgrid’s latest All-Island Generation Capacity Statement, published on Wednesday, confirms that since January, electricity market regulators issued eight warnings that demand had pushed power reserves to the point where unexpected faults risked possible blackouts.
Although the squeeze on supplies will be partly eased by the reopening of a number of power plants which have been closed for maintenance, Eirgrid predicts growing demand and proposed plant closures threaten serious shortages in coming years.
Beginning later this year, the grid operator plans a series of auctions to attract investment in flexible gas-fired plants that can be switched on quickly when wind power is not available, eliminating or reducing the need for older generators.
The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications said the Minister, Eamon Ryan, expected the CRU to prioritise options that will achieve Government’s policy objectives for ending coal-fired generation by 2025. Auctions planned by Eirgrid could provide 2,000MW of emergency generation in coming years, it pointed out.