Electricity blackouts in family homes cannot be ruled out over the winter months due to significant supply issues facing the energy sector, ministers have been warned.
n a confidential briefing note for a Cabinet committee on climate change, ministers were told energy suppliers could be forced to introduce emergency measures if there are high demands for electricity during the colder months
Under worst-case scenario contingency plans, businesses will be given as little as an hour’s notice to reduce their electricity use or switch to generators while family homes will also be disconnected from the network.
The briefing document says “every measure” will be taken to avoid cutting off electricity.
But it but warns that expected strains on the grid throughout the winter mean “the potential for system emergencies and the need for demand control cannot be ruled out”.
The warning comes as energy prices continue to soar and the Government faces continued political pressure over the demand put on the electricity network by data centres.
Micheál Martin and Eamon Ryan have sought to reassure the public there will be no blackouts during the winter.
The Taoiseach has said everything possible will be done to ensure there are no outages. The Communications Minister has said the soon-to-be-published Climate Action Plan will include curbs on emissions for data centres.
However, in the confidential briefing given to ministers last Monday, they were told mandatory demand control measures could still be required if there are “tight margins” on the electricity system or even if there is a reduction in wind energy forecasted.
The State’s energy operator, Eirgrid, will be responsible for introducing emergency blackouts if the demand on the system reaches crisis point during the winter.
Under a newly devised system for introducing demand controls, Eirgrid will issue notices to users of high amounts of electricity asking them to reduce their usage with as little as an hour’s notice.
Large customers with significant back-up electricity generators will be instructed to reduce their demand on the system.
In circumstances where customers can replace their entire electricity use with generators they may be cut off by EirGrid if they do not reduce their energy usage within an hour of being contacted.
Family homes will also be targeted with blackouts if the demand on the electricity network is not addressed by businesses reducing their usage.
“Should a further reduction in demand be required, EirGrid will instruct the ESB network to initiate the disconnection of some customers that are connected to the distribution system (generally smaller customers, including homes),” the document stated.
“Every measure at the disposal of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) and EirGid will be taken to avoid this scenario but it can never be ruled out.”
There was also a warning of the possibility of an urgent need to reduce demand on the network if a power station unexpectedly breaks down at a time when there is already high-demand on the country’s electricity grid.
Ministers were told this rarely happens but, again, were told it could not be ruled out as potential problem over the coming months.
The briefing document said some of the supply issues will be addressed by the return of two major power plants, one in Dublin and the other in Cork, in the coming days but insisted issues may still arise with supply.
The CRU has put in place an action plan for addressing energy shortage issues over the coming years. This includes introducing more gas-fired electricity generation, promoting renewable energies and replacing older electricity generators.
The Commission will also seek to purchase emergency electricity internationally for the forthcoming winter. They will also prolong the use of older power stations until replacement plants are up and running.
Another key issue facing the Government is the rise cost of energy over the last year: gas prices have risen 400pc since April while electricity costs have risen by 220pc.
The rising cost of energy is an international problem which was discussed by European leaders, including the Taoiseach, at an EU summit last week.
The European Commission agreed to adopted what were seen as short-term measures for addressing the energy crisis.
These include direct income support for vulnerable households, state aid for struggling companies along with reductions in taxes and special levies.
There was also a commitment to explore at bigger interventions at a later date such as creating an EU natural gas reserve and joint purchase of energy reserves by member states.
In the Budget, the Government increased the fuel allowance by €5 a week in an attempt to ensure soaring energy prices do not affect the most vulnerable in society.