Concerns have been raised about the potential loss of hundreds of jobs and the loss of over £500,000 rates income to the Mid and East Antrim Council due to the proposed closure of the coal fired generators at Kilroot and the Ballylumford B station.
Commenting on the issue, East Antrim MP, Sammy Wilson said: “The impact of the closure of the coal fired generators at Kilroot and the Ballylumford B station cannot be underestimated. Apart from the impact on the jobs of 240 employees and sub contractors which in itself is devastating, and the loss of over £500,000 rates income to the Mid and East Antrim Council, every household in the greater Belfast area especially and businesses across NI should be concerned about what this is going to do to the continuity of their electricity supply and the price of electricity.
“Effectively there will be a 25 per cent reduction in the supply of electricity in NI because consistently over the last number of years that is the percentage of electricity which was supplied to the grid by Kilroot. As late as October last year, SONI, which oversees the distribution of electricity in NI said that at least one Kilroot unit is needed when demand in NI exceeds 1400MW and both will be needed if demand exceeds 1550MW otherwise there would be a flow reduction in the Belfast area meaning that lights would go out. 1550MW would not be an unusual level of demand on a mild winters day. It is significant that Kilroot operated at 85 per cent of its capacity in each of the last three years in order to achieve this objective. It is estimated by SONI that peak demand in NI will be 1750MW.”
The DUP representative added: “One third of this demand will now have to be met by wind but given the unreliability of wind it is almost inevitable that there will not be enough capacity to meet demand. The fallback position is to use diesel generators owned by hospitals, private firms etc at a price 6 times the cost of electricity generated by Kilroot’s coal fired generators. This will only be possible if the owners have stocked up on sufficient fuel, have maintained the generators, and what environmental concerns are there about running such generators in populated areas for long times.
“Any power outages would be devastating for our strategy of attracting foreign investment into NI, especially since many of the types of firms we are targeting are high energy users. Indeed the suggestion that the Utility Regulator and SONI have made a mess of this capacity auction and put in doubt future energy supplies will be damaging in itself.
“Both need to explain how the energy delivered by Kilroot in the past three years is now going to be delivered efficiently and without disruption. They have to explain how their assessment of the need for Kilroot in October 2017 has so suddenly changed. They need to give a reasoned assurance as to how they can be sure that there is no danger of supply being disrupted and what risk assessment they have carried out on the possibilities of no wind at peak times, loss of supply from the troubled Moyle interconnector etc.
“I have already raised this issue with the Secretary of State’s office, the Chairman of the NI Select Committee at Westminster and the Head of the Civil Service. It is important to note that in a recent report on the Single Electricity Market the NI affairs committee expressed concerns about energy security in NI and that was before the loss of Kilroot.
“I don’t believe that the assurances sought will be given and if that is the case then immediate steps must be taken to arrange a contract with AES which will keep electricity flowing into the system.”
Voicing concerns, East Antrim MLA, Stewart Dickson said: “Kilroot is a key part of the East Antrim community and the wider Northern Ireland economy. The decisions around the energy auction seem premature and potentially counter-productive.
“Alliance supports the rebalancing of our energy production toward renewables and away from carbon fuels. But it is important it happens in an organised and structured way. This includes the eventual decommissioning of Kilroot and Ballylumford.
“ISEM offers the potential for greater security of supply, diversification in production and lower prices to domestic and commercial consumers. However, it is not yet complete. The North-South Interconnector is a key piece of infrastructure and one of the key rationales behind it is energy security. This implies we do not have complete energy security at present.”
The Alliance representative added: “The forced closure of these power stations ahead of schedule takes a considerable amount of existing generation capacity out of the system. It is far from certain under the current network there are sufficient checks for extreme situations in which there is increased demand for power, there are cold and still weather conditions, and a breach in the Moyle Interconnector or a combination of them.
“There needs to be clear transparency and explanations around these decisions, and challenge to Utility Regulator and the Department for the Economy. I will be seeking urgent meetings with them to see if there is a better way to minimise risks. I am also deeply concerned at the impact on the local economy in East Antrim and express my solidarity with the employees who may be potentially affected by this decision.”
East Antrim UUP MLA, John Stewart said: “It is not just the sudden loss of jobs that is catastrophic – equally the imminent loss of reserve electricity capacity increases risk of blackouts for industrial and domestic consumers.
“In recent days I have spoken to staff who were becoming increasingly concerned about their future as speculation continued to grow. AES has made significant profits running Kilroot and Ballylumford in the privatised era, they now have a duty to look after their workers who face redundancy.
“I intend to meet Unions at Kilroot in the coming days and am trying to get clarification about the process from Ofreg, the Utility Regulator. However, the statement from AES pointing to closure of Kilroot by May and also job reductions at Ballylumford is stark.
“If Kilroot closes early this will not only have a devastating impact on the highly skilled workforce and their families but also the wider East Antrim economy, along with the security of the electricity supply in Northern Ireland. In addition, the Council faces losing a considerable amount of rates revenue in a very short space of time.”
He added: “East Antrim through Ballylumford and Kilroot Power Stations has been the electricity generating powerhouse for Northern Ireland for many years. Are we seriously going to allow local generation to be switched off and become largely dependent on power stations in the Irish Republic to keep the lights on in Northern Ireland in the future?
“This is not just about ‘keeping the lights on’ in Northern Ireland, how can we grow our economy without a cast iron guarantee for potential inward investors that we have a plentiful supply of electricity at a competitive price?”