Sunday, 15 February 2015

The future of power generation in Northern Ireland - Part 1

Kilroot Coal Power Station's output will be restricted from 2016

Northern Ireland is facing a generating capacity shortage in the all too near future. How did this happen and what are the implications ?


 There are essentially four thermal plants in Northern Ireland.

  • Coolkeeragh power station a modern Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plant in Derry owned by ESB entered into service in June 2005 and is 400 MW.
  • Ballylumford B which dates to 1974 and is 540 MW. This was very similar to Ringsend with it's two large chimneys in that it was designed originally for heavy fuel oil and later converted to natural gas, it does not meet the nitrogen oxide emission limits set in the EU's Large Combustion Plant Directive and was 'opted out'. There is also an open cycle gas turbine of 112 MW dating from 1976 and used for peaking operations. fired by fuel oil at this site. There is a derogation in the EU legislation for such turbines used for 'emergency use', i.e. less than 500 hours per year. These are owned by AES.
  • Ballylumford C, which is 600 MW and commenced operations in 2003. It includes two Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) with combined efficiency of 48 percent running on natural gas and the ability to burn distillate as back-up fuel. Also owned by AES.
  • Kilroot is coal fired with 520 MW and dates to 1981. It has sea water desulphurisation but in the absence of DeNOx technology, won't meet the nitrogen oxide (NOx) limits originally set in the Large Combustion Plant Directive of 2001/80/EC and applicable from 1st January 2015. There are also two small peaker distillate fired open cycle gas turbines of 84 MW in total installed in 2009. Also owned by AES.
It was originally envisaged that when Ballylumford C was built that the Ballylumford B plant would be shut down, but it was kept in use as a back-up, as in that time the electricity demand had increased. If one of the other three power stations failed, it had to step in. N.Ireland's own electricity statistics show:

  • All Time Maximum Peak Demand: 1,777 MW on 22nd December 2010
  • Installed Dispatchable Capacity: 2,342 MW. As at 30th November 2014 - This figure excludes import capacity of Moyle. (Import = 450 MW Nov-Mar & 410 MW Apr-Oct. Export = 295 MW Sep-Apr & 287 MW May-Aug).

The EU's Large Combustion Plant Directive has been superseded by the 2010/75/EC Directive in Industrial Emissions (IED). From January 2016 older plants can enter into what is called a Transitional National Plan (TNP), which is based around an allowable level of emissions, which progressively gets reduced over a period of five or so years. Ireland now has a TNP in place and agreed with the EU, see below, but the UK's TNP hasn't been agreed, it seems to have been rejected at least once if not twice.

The power company AES's presentation of September 2013 to the N.I Committee is extremely interesting  :

AES's assets must comply with the EU's large combustion plant directive (LCPD) until the end of 2015 and its successor, the industrial emissions directive (IED), from 1st January 2016.  Several options are available to AES in order to comply with the more stringent emission limits under IED, including limited hours of operation up to 2023; operating under a transitional national plan (TNP), which would allow restricted operation until 2020; or investing to make the plants fully compliant with IED emission limits from 1st January 2016. Our current view is that Kilroot will opt into the TNP.  Assuming no further significant capital investments under the TNP option, the capacity factor of the Kilroot main units will be limited to approximately 45% from 2016 to 2020, with a further reduction in operations to 1,500 hours per annum from June 2020.  Ballylumford C station is currently compliant with IED emissions requirements while firing on gas, but investment will be required in one of the units, unit 10, to enable running on backup fuel, which is distillate.  Ballylumford B station was opted out of the LCPD in 2007 by the previous owner, Premier Power Ltd, and is scheduled to cease operations on 31st December 2015.

What we do know is that Ballylumford B will be shut down on the 21st January 2016. Even if they enter into a derogation on Kilroot with the Transitional National Plan (TNP), they can only operate it at best 45% of the time, which is quite generous, based on the fact that on the past decade it was run 80 to 85% of the time. By 2020 they can only run it for 1,500 hours per year out of the 8,760 hours in a year, namely 17% of the time. However, that 45% is somewhat optimistic, as it is based on a form of emissions trading. It requires for additional emission credits to become available when other companies in the TNP elsewhere in the UK make improvements to their power stations (no longer likely). Also each year there are less and less emission credits available as free issue. On this basis in theory there might be credits that Kilroot could buy, but on the other hand each year there are less and less credits in the TNP. As AES explained to the N. Ireland Committee :

Essentially, we can run the plant up to the point at which we run out of those emissions.  When we run out, we have to shut down the plant until the next year, when we get a new allocation.  The intent of the TNP is to allow the sustained performance of the units and meet the energy needs of the market but still allow some investment.
If you are dispatched strongly throughout the year and hit your capacity factor limit in September, you are not available for the rest of that year.  You have gone through your bubble, so you cannot emit. 

The new Industrial Emissions Directive is very specific in that if you 'opted out' in 2007 under the then Large Combustion Plant Directive, you must close your plant by 31st December 2015. So it is inexplicable why the N. Ireland authorities are writing new emission limit values for Ballylumford B post that date and the Committee discussing possible upgrades to it, as by EU law the operators are forbidden to operate beyond 31st December 2015. It smacks of complete desperation going on.

So in summary there are clearly times of the year post 1st January 2016 when the dispatchable generation capacity in N. Ireland could be down to:

Dispatchable Plant      2,342 MW


Ballylumford B           ( 540 MW )

Kilroot                        ( 520 MW )

Total                        = 1,282 MW

This compares really bad with their peak load of 1,777 MW. It is also well known that they are having operational trouble with the Moyle interconnector, 

  • These issues are compounded by a fault on the Moyle interconnector which has reduced its transfer capacity to 250 MW. Efforts by Mutual Energy to complete interim repairs to the cable proved to be unsuccessful in restoring the Moyle to full capacity. A  project to install new undersea low voltage cables is being progressed and expected to be operational by 2017. 
While there is a surplus of dispatchable capacity in the Republic, there is currently only 400 MW of transfer capacity between the Republic and N.Ireland and this will not alter until the North South Interconnector is built. 

So N. Ireland at best can import 650 MW and legally generate 1,282 MW, which only just exceeds their peak load by 150MW, leaving very little spare for reserve. So what happens if a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine either at Derry or Ballylumford trips??

However, Eirgrid in their 2013 -2022 Capacity Statement report state :

Northern Ireland
  • In the base case scenario the Northern Ireland Generation Security Standard is met until 2020.
  • Thereafter, Northern Ireland will be in deficit. With the additional North-South tie line in place, these deficits are avoided.
  • Northern Ireland is at risk of deficits from 2016 onwards in the event of a prolonged outage of a large generation plant or of the Moyle Interconnector.
  • No new generation is expected to connect out to 2022 other than renewables.
  • 510 MW of conventional plant in Ballylumford will close by 2016. From 2021, the output from 476 MW of plant at Kilroot is projected to be severely restricted because of limited running hours due to the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). The effect of this is that the Northern Ireland Generation Security Standard is not met in 2021 and 2022.
  • The Moyle Interconnector has been modelled at an import capacity of 250 MW due to uncertainty as to when the current ongoing fault on one cable will be repaired.

But the restrictions on Kilroot kick in from 1st January 2016, as the company stated and they are major ones, which is now acknowledged in the December 2014 draft SONI report above. You can see also how up front the owners are in their presentation to the N. Ireland committee as to what the situation is :

Mr Miller: There are two routes of remuneration.  Let us just say that, if we get comfortable with our expectations of what the market would deliver post-2016, we would bear the risk of that investment, as it currently stands.  If we struggle based on the investment required to make that into a measurable investment metric — in other words, that we will recover our investment over a certain period — we could be forced down the route of asking for some sort of surety through a capacity contract, as we outlined in our opening statement, to ensure that we will get our investment back.

This is the core of the issue, it has absolutely nothing to do with opposition to the North South Interconnector, but everything to do with a dysfunctional renewable policy and an ideologically driven elite, who are out of control. N. Ireland operated perfectly as an essentially independent electricity network for many decades, with a reliable and affordable electricity supply. It is no longer worth the while of electricity generation companies to participate in investing further with conventional reliable generation in that market, as that market place has been destroyed by a set of decision makers ignorant of power generation. This is clear. So too is it clear what the purpose of the North South Interconnector is:
  • The additional grid Transfer capacity provided by this North South 400 kV interconnection project is essential to allow access to a larger market for the new renewable generation, particularly for Northern Ireland wind generation in times of high wind conditions and low local demand. This project therefore indirectly allows the connection of 600 MW in Northern Ireland, i.e. the equivalent of the additional grid transfer capacity initially provided by the link.
So this is the "real" reason behind the North South interconnector - facilitation of wind. But this wind programme has not been legally assessed and therefore it is invalid to approve the interconnector without first assessing all that interconnected wind energy as part of the combined project. An issue which hasn't been completed to date. See the below for more on this:
And will all this wind energy contribute to the adequacy of electricity supply ? Well, not much is the answer. Because of its intermittency, its value in conventional generation terms, i.e. it's capacity credit, is only 20% at present and will decrease as more wind is added. As Eirgrid explain :

Installed Wind Capacity In Northern Ireland is expected to increase to over 637MW during the Winter months, with a corresponding capacity credit of 130MW.

So is N. Ireland going to experience power outages post 2016 ? -  the answer is most likely yes and the reason for it is an obsession with renewables to the detriment of conventional reliable plant and cheap electricity. As the public realise this, there is going to be a hell of a backlash.


  1. I attended a somewhat tense one day public consultation event hosted by Eirgrid in the Autumn of 2013 in Murtagh's lounge in Kingscourt on North/South interconnector plan. I eventually brushed aside all the happy talk from people without degrees in electrical engineering and found an engineer to discuss the matter with. He confirmed that the situation is as stated above in this blog. They hope that Northern Ireland's wind capacity will fill the void created by the shutting down of its coal plant. When the wind does not blow, the interconnector will carry power from the Republic. Wind speeds are very similar in both jurisdictions which means that a high proportion of the power flowing northwards will be generated in coal fired plant. After a lot of debate, I finally managed to get him to agree that the interconnector is about replacing N. Ireland's decommissioned "---COAL---" plant with southern "---- COAL-----" plant. Because that defies logic, the purpose of the interconnector is for wind energy. According to local newspapers, Eirgrid are planning to open offices in Kingscourt and Carrickmacross for community consultations purposes.

  2. A fine expose by the Irish Energy Blog. We had a perfectly good, properly engineered electricity service in the Republic under the ESB which has provided reliable supply in all weathers for decades and I am sure that Northern Ireland had the same. We then broke it all up in the name of ideological purity, and now nobody will admit that Humpty Dumpty needs to be stuck together again. What utter rubbish to assert that Northern Ireland wind energy will be exported to the Republic - or has there been a moratorium on wind development in the 26 counties that I have not heard about?

  3. Note that the requirement to assess these plans apply equally in the Northern Ireland as it does inn the Republic, No such assessment was done. 20 years ago, every large town in Ireland had an office of the electricity supplier, Then the ESB in the Republic. These offices/shops collected bills, processed connection applications, gave advice and sold some appliances. They were forced to close as cost cutting measures with resulting loss of jobs. Now, we have new offices belonging to Eirgrid, the transmission operator, (they sell no power). Their purpose is to counter protest over their illegal scheme. It all goes down on consumers bills and drives up the cost of electricity. They have made it clear that they intend to push ahead but to love us better


  5. Not a lot of sense here in my opinion. Coal plants are destroying the planet, and EU directives are forcing ALL countries to reduce carbon emissions. There will still be compliant non-renewable generating stations in the North, but certain non-compliant stations are no longer economically viable, especially in the case of increasing regulatory support for more environmental, or simply more efficient technologies.

    The fact is, NI is operating at 17% of their total power in wind, and ROI are closer to 22%. So no matter how you look at it, NI need to pull up their socks on the renewables side and stop cribbing about what ROI should be doing. The directives are there for everyone to reach.

    Also, no there is not a moratorium on wind development in the "26 counties", if you've ever heard of the gate system, we're working towards gate 3 at the minute and maybe you'd want to do some research before mouthing off.....

    1. First of all, if you are worried about coal plants, then you need to come up with a viable solution like say nuclear.

      Secondly, conventional plant are no longer viable because of supports for intermittent sources which in turn is making the conv plant run intermittently. But voltage control is important.

      Thirdly, I know of no such moratorium.

      The below is a quantitative analysis of the situation with respect to external costs and financial impacts:

      It would help that instead of opinions and quoting targets, you could actually provide a proper cost / benefit analysis of the situation, so we could see your position quantified and draw independent conclusions as to its validity. Indeed, in doing this you can quote the supporting information for these targets and Directives, which was used to justify the position you are supporting. If you can't do that, it would help if you could educate yourself on these cost benefit issues, as it is an intolerable situation, where society is expected to carry the cost of whatever is the current trendy cause, rather than that which has been properly assessed and quantified and hence determined to be appropriate.