The closure of Kilroot power station could have major political implications for Northern Ireland when it comes to Brexit negotiations, a senior DUP figure has warned.
Sammy Wilson said the decision to shut the plant – with the loss of over 250 jobs – would increase Dublin’s control over the Province’s electricity supply and “strengthen its hand” on the issue of the Irish border post-Brexit.
The axeing of Kilroot will reduce NI’s capacity to generate electricity, raising major questions about the security of supply and making the Province more dependent on the Republic for its electricity.
And Mr Wilson claimed the development could have “far-reaching political implications which have not yet been fully teased out”.
The former finance minister told the News Letter: “The Irish government has shown that it will do its darndest to keep the UK within the EU sphere as much as possible, even to the point of saying we should stay within the single market and customs union.
“They have shown a willingness, even an eagerness, to interfere in our affairs.
“Given the beligerence of the Irish government regarding Brexit and attempts to tie Northern Ireland to their position vis-a-vis Europe, the planned closure of Kilroot plays into their hands.
“It puts them in a stronger position to argue that NI cannot diverge too far from that regime.”
On Friday, energy expert Dr Patrick Keatley played down concerns that Dublin could threaten the cross-border flow of electricity.
When it comes to the “fairly catastrophic” scenario of the Republic theoretically deciding to turn off the flow, he said: “I just can’t imagine any circumstances in which that can happen.”
He said the planned north-south interconnector would make the whole island essentially “one grid” and, short of the interconnector being put out of action, could not foresee how it would be “possible to isolate Northern Ireland from the rest of the grid”.
The Kilroot closure is linked to the fact that its American owners, AES, failed to win an auction process to supply the all-island electricity market.
Mr Wilson said an explanation must be given as to how “energy delivered by Kilroot in the past three years is now going to be delivered efficiently and without disruption”.
More than 250 jobs are at risk. The company is planning to close the 513MW coal-fired part of Kilroot – which makes up almost 80% of the station’s capacity – by May. It would mean 120 full-time staff there would be out of work.
Meanwhile, at Ballylumford in Larne, another 30 full-time AES jobs also look set to be axed towards the end of the year. In addition, the jobs of 120 full-time contractors at both sites are also at risk.