The decision to close Kilroot power station has been defended following a recent power outage which it has been claimed would have caused significant blackouts in the Province had it happened later this year.
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs has expressed concern about the security of the NI electricity supply, with particular focus on an incident which saw Londonderry’s Coolkeeragh power station out of operation for longer than expected at the end of last month.
He said: “The plant failed to come back as planned after maintenance resulting in a longer period of time when the station was not generating. This is exactly the scenario that I have been highlighting in terms of the insecurity of our electricity supply without Kilroot power station in the future.
“Such an unforeseen outage could easily have resulted in significant electricity blackouts across Northern Ireland had the Kilroot power station and the Ballylumford B station unit, which are destined for closure, not been generating electricity.”
The closure of Kilroot would see the loss of up to 240 jobs, while a further 30 jobs would be lost at Ballylumford.
Mr Beggs has called for a rethink over the technical assessment on the security of supply.
SONI confirmed that on January 29 Coolkeeragh power plant “failed to come online” but added that “security of supply was maintained”.
The energy utility company said: “Should this happen after May 23, SONI is confident that without Kilroot’s coal units and Ballylumford B5, we would still have sufficient capacity to meet demand and to cover additional unplanned events.”
They added: “On any given day SONI as the transmission system operator will meet the electricity demand for NI, based on the available capacity at the most efficient cost.
“We have to ensure a secure supply of electricity taking into account weather, demand forecast, as well as outages – either planned or unplanned.”
To this end SONI said it ran a capacity auction in order to implement the new market as designed by the Single Electricity Market Committee.
They said: “The new market, which goes live in May 2018, will mean that Northern Ireland consumers can benefit from the competitive wholesale arrangements. One element of the new market arrangement is the capacity auction which results in annual savings of £50m for consumers in NI.”
The Utility Regulator concurred with SONI’s response to the News Letter’s questions, adding that they intended to meet with Mr Beggs this week.
Jenny Pyper, Utility Regulator chief executive said: “SONI has confirmed that sufficient capacity has been secured through the auction to ensure security of supply in Northern Ireland.
“The Utility Regulator is concerned not only with security of supply but also that consumers only pay for generation that is actually required. Indeed, the auction outcome ensures there will be savings of around £50 million per annum for NI electricity consumers.”