Electricity situation ‘deteriorates’ says firm keeping Derry lights on

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The firm responsible for keeping the lights on in Derry has said there has been a ‘deterioration’ in electricity output and forecast ‘challenges’ over the next four years, particularly in winter.

The System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) said that while the long-term outlook is good, the decommissioning of existing coal-fired units, growing demand and restrictions imposed on two new gas-fired turbines at Kilroot, mean the ‘power system does not meet adequacy standard for NI in 2024 and 2025’.

SONI issued the forecast in its newly-published All Island Generation Capacity Statement 2022-31 (GCS), which examines the likely balance between electricity demand and supply.

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The longer-term outlook is positive, with SONI forecasting a surplus of generation from 2026 until 2031.

SONI warns of electricity challengesSONI warns of electricity challenges
SONI warns of electricity challenges

However, there will be challenges over the next four years (2022-25), particularly during winter periods.

In last year’s GCS (2021-30) SONI had already advised that the adequacy of the power system would reduce and it anticipated more system alerts.

During 2021/22 there were several further system alerts across the north and on the island as a whole and the situation has ‘deteriorated’.

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The new report states: “Since the publication of the GCS 2021-30, the outlook for NI has deteriorated generally, and specifically over the next four years. SONI recently obtained clarification from the plant operator on the running of existing near end of life coal plant.

"At present, the plant operates at a reduced generation capacity, following the expiration of the COVID-19 Regulatory Position Statement to manage and comply with their most recent environmental permit.

"Since the last GCS 2021-2030 statement, the change in running regime means a reduced contribution to capacity adequacy, therefore reducing NI’s short-term adequacy surplus.”

SONI says the decommissioning of existing coal fired units which are due to close in September 2023 and growing electricity demand have contributed to the negative forecast.

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It has also explained how the developer of new capacity in the form of two new Open Cycle Gas Turbines at Kilroot has been restricted in the amount of electricity they can produce over the next four years under permissions regulated by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

"The running restrictions on the new Open Cycle Gas Turbines mean the power system does not meet adequacy standard for Northern Ireland in 2024 and 2025.

"Once these restrictions are removed in 2026, the system is in surplus adequacy for the remaining years of the study. SONI is working with the Department for the Economy and the Utility Regulator in addressing these issues,” the new GCS report states.

Alan Campbell, SONI MD: said: “NI is not an outlier here, National Grid ESO in GB, EirGrid in Ireland and electricity system operators globally are all experiencing similar challenges, as we move through the transition from systems reliant on fossil fuels to cleaner systems based on renewable energy.

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“What is important is that SONI identify the risks and signal our concerns so that the industry, government and the regulator are aware and that the investment signals are transparent and made publicly available.

"SONI’s role is to ensure that all reasonable demands for electricity are met, but we do not generate electricity. It is essential that we inform those who do, of our data, and support preparations for the winters to come.”