Northern Ireland

AES wins contract to meet NI electricity shortfall

Kilroot power station
Image caption AES, based in the US, owns two power stations in County Antrim, including Kilroot in Carrickfergus

Northern Ireland's biggest electricity generator has won a contract to provide additional capacity to meet a projected shortfall over the coming years.

System Operator Northern Ireland (SONI), the firm responsible for the reliability of electricity system, has awarded the contract to AES.

Under the deal, AES will provide an extra 250 megawatts (MW) to the system, enough to power to 160,000 homes

AES, based in the US, owns Kilroot and Ballylumford power stations.

Bills

It is not yet clear how AES will provide the additional capacity but it is thought it will involve modernising part of one of those power stations.

It is also unclear how much the three year contract is worth and what impact it might have on bills.

It is estimated that from January 2016, the margin of spare generating capacity in Northern Ireland's electricity system will fall from 600 MW to 200MW.

The amount of spare capacity in the system is falling for a number of reasons.

The main issue is that EU pollution rules means that part of Ballylumford power station will have to be shut down.

'Security of supply'

Additionally, the undersea Moyle interconnector has suffered a series of faults and is currently running at 50% capacity.

It is due to be fixed by the end of 2015, before the cables are completely replaced in 2017.

SONI considers that 200MW is not enough spare capacity to guarantee security of supply, if there was a prolonged fault at a power station.

SONI General Manager Robin McCormick said: "We welcome today's agreement to award a contract to AES and we look forward to working with AES over the next three years.

"Meanwhile, we will continue work to advance the construction of the North-South interconnector, which will provide a longer-term security of supply solution for Northern Ireland."

Carla Tully, President of AES UK and Ireland, said: "We welcome the opportunity to work with SONI over the next three years, to further secure electricity supply in Northern Ireland."