Furthering the UK’s objective of switching over to zero-emission energy generation by 2025, the Kilroot power plant was recently converted to run on gas instead of coal. The announcement comes at a time when the country is looking at its longest-ever period of carbon-free electricity since the Industrial Revolution. Earlier, the UK had gone for 18 days without carbon-based electricity, a period that ended on 4th June 2019.
The Kilroot power station is in Northern Ireland. It is among the last few operating coal plants in the UK and is now set to be converted to operate on gas instead. As per a statement released by EP UK Investments (EPUKI), a Czech energy group, a 10-year contract had been secured for energy generation via gas at the plant. The company’s contract is for further units of the Kilroot station and all existing units in Ballylumford.
These were obtained from an auction of Irish energy capacity that took place in March. The company spokesperson stated that in their T-4 auction all units were successfully sold, allowing for flexible and low-carbon energy generation at Kilroot.
The coal plant was acquired by EPUKI from American firm AES in July 2019. It was already scheduled to be closed by 2024 as it would not match the environmental standards by then. This conversion marks a step in the direction of low-carbon energy generation. It would further help to stabilize and secure North Ireland’s supply by indigenous generation.
This news follows the closure of 2 major coal plants in the UK. The remaining coal-generation plants that remain include 2 units in Yorkshire under energy firm Drax. These are also planned to be converted from coal to gas generation instead. There are 2 more power stations in Nottinghamshire- Ratcliffe-on-Soar and West Burton. No plans have been announced for these yet.
Following the announcement, Sammy Wilson, the MP for East Antrim, stated that this was a major step as Kilroot and Ballylumford secured their place in the energy market of the future. The MP went to state that there had been concerns about dependency on energy generated outside North Ireland. This auction ensures that Kilroot’s production facilities are secured. It also makes the area in a place where it can deliver energy in the future.
Roy Beggs, who is the spokesperson for Ulster Unionist Infrastructure, also welcomed the news. He had expressed his concern in 2018 about the contracts that were lost, which could end Kilroot’s generation capabilities. This would put Northern Ireland at an increased risk of facing electricity blackouts. Contracts up to 2023 were soon awarded, securing energy generation and employment. However, with alternate energy generation, the increased consumption of renewable electricity has also been secured.
As per Alderman Billy Ashe, who is the Chair for the Council’s Energy Committee, this secure electricity supply is critical for ensuring that Mid & East Antrim and North Ireland are an attractive destination for investors. The contracts awarded as part of the T-4 auction would provide Ballylumford and Kilroot with a solid platform for growth.
The Kilroot plant was a prime energy creator in the region. As per Anne Donaghy, retaining it was important and is a positive sign for the post-Covid-19 economic growth for the region. Kilroot, in 2018, had lost a bid in a capacity auction that was for supplying to the SEM or all-island Single Energy Market. The plant was at the verge of facing immediate closure at the point. Reprieve came its way only after the grid operator SONI came into an agreement with AES, who were the owners at that pint and the Utility Regulator.
EPUKI is currently owned by Daniel Kretinsky, who is the owner for several energy assets in Europe, which also include 4 more power stations in the UK. As per his statement, European countries would continue to be dependent on fossil fuels as energy sources for at least 10-20 years. However, with the UK eyeing to go carbon-free by 2025, one can only hope that his statement does not stay true.