The Government is committed to ensuring continuity of power supply to industry, but an earlier warning system on energy shortages might have been expected, the Taoiseach said.
Micheál Martin acknowledged Ireland is facing a major challenge amid warnings from experts there may be power shortages this winter as demand is predicted to outweigh supply.
“Our focus has to be in terms of making sure that for the purposes of the economy, in particular, that we retain what has been a consistent strength of ours, the maintenance of utilities, the provision of utilities, to major industrial players,” said Mr Martin.
“It has always been a factor in attracting key companies in key sectors, life sciences and technology. No doubt our success in that has created its own challenges in terms of energy demand and energy pressure. It is one we should be ambitious about.”
The Taoiseach there was an increased demand for electricity due to Ireland having both a growing population and a growing economy but that at the same time, people might well have expected there would be an earlier warning system in place to flag possible shortages.
“We will be having further meetings with the CRU [Commission for the Regulation of Utilities] and with Eirgrid in respect of this. We had meetings late last year in respect of this, we gave sanction to emergency procurement of generation in an unprecedented way,” he said.
“We gave them particular capacity to procure energy generation on a short-term basis, in terms of dealing with procurement issues and so on. There are issues there that need to be examined, but the Government will do everything it possibly can to ensure security for the people of the country.”
Mr Martin said the Government was focused on both the immediate challenge by sanctioning the CRU and others to procure energy this winter and next winter but that it was also focused on Ireland’s energy needs in the medium term.
Mr Martin was responding to media questions in west Cork after expert, Paul Deane of the Research Centre for Energy Climate and Marine at University College Cork warned “alarm bells” have been ringing on the energy supply issue “for well over a year”.
“It was August of last year that the wider media first picked up on this electricity crisis. Even before that there were concerns within the wider industry that we were not doing enough to build conventional fossil fuel power plants,” Mr Deane told RTÉ Radio’s Drivetime.
Last week, the CRU issued a consultation paper in which it proposed a number of new tariffs be applied to extremely large energy users from October 1st for 12 months to help reduce demand during the peak hours of 5pm to 7pm each day.
It has since emerged Minister for the Environment, Eamon Ryan has appointed former senior civil servant Dermot McCarthy to carry out review of energy security — particularly the roles of Eirgid and the CRU in ensuring regular supply.
Economist John FitzGerald has blamed the energy regulator for failing to forecast energy capacity shortages. Now it would be necessary to “scrabble around” for emergency generators which were “scarce on the ground”, he said.
The IDA continued to “sell” data centres when the energy capacity was not there, and there was a need to look at the energy market structure for the future, he told Newstalk Breakfast on Tuesday.
However, Mr FitzGerald warned neither the Government nor the energy regulator in the Republic could make unilateral decisions because of the North-South energy grid and he did not anticipate the all-island grid being divided.
Mr FitzGerald said the Government needed to encourage different ways to guide people on energy use, such as public announcements after the main evening news indicating when was a good time to use appliances. That would be unusual and could prompt people to respond faster than a warning about higher bills, he said.
Later on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher also criticised the CRU for failing to keep the Government informed “of the situation”.
Mr Kelleher said the liquid-gas storage facility on the Shannon estuary should go ahead to provide gas for energy generation in the event of a shortage. Relying on the wind to blow all the time was not the way to run a modern economy, he said.
If the current situation continued there would be amber alert after amber alert, he said.