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Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland: Energy Supply Shortfalls

Volume 825: debated on Monday 21 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made, if any, of the progress of discussions with the Government of the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive regarding energy supply shortfalls, particularly gas, in this coming winter.

My Lords, the UK and Ireland have a mature vehicle for co-operation to ensure that their gas emergency operational plans work together. There are protocols between the transmission system operators and modifications to emergency plans have been identified following joint emergency exercises. Additionally, a tripartite interconnector agreement is in place, which includes provisions on emergencies. A gas and electricity emergency group, comprising representatives from the three jurisdictions, complements these arrangements and the regional approach to emergency planning.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed Answer. Given the strengthening nature of British-Irish relations and all the problems that have been indicated with energy supplies, can the Minister guarantee that, no matter what pressures there are on the supply of natural gas in Britain, there will be no cut in supply of natural gas to Ireland—both north and south?

I cannot give the noble Baroness an absolute guarantee but it will not happen unless there is a national emergency. We have made agreements with the operators that, in the unlikely event of a supply shortage to the United Kingdom as a whole, that pain will need to be shared equally but, of course, it is not our intention for this to happen.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the subject of energy is devolved to Northern Ireland. There is currently no Energy Minister; I held that role for some time. What powers of intervention does the Minister have in the event of an interruption to supply or another emergency in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive?

The noble Lord asks a very good question, given his experience. We keep these matters under constant review, but both Northern Ireland and the Republic depend on Great Britain for supply of gas and certain amounts of electricity. All the transmission system operators and civil servants on both sides of the border are working very closely together to make sure we plan for any operational difficulties.

My Lords, some parts of the energy supply of Northern Ireland are part of a larger energy entity for the whole of the island of Ireland. Can the Minister explain what role it might play? Given that there is plenty of gas on the high seas waiting for destinations and the Republic of Ireland has some terminals to receive it, there ought to be no problem sharing that in a constructive way.

I will check but I do not think my noble friend is exactly right; I do not think the Republic of Ireland has any LNG terminals. It relies on the ample supply Great Britain has. We supply them through our interconnector pipelines. He is also right that there is a single electricity market in Ireland with power stations, many of them gas-fired, on both sides of the border. We will ensure that they continue to receive supplies.

My Lords, Germany has 89 days, France 103 days and the Netherlands 123 days of gas storage. I believe we have nine days. Could the Minister inform us what is happening with the Islandmagee facility in County Antrim, Northern Ireland? I understand that the Rough facility in the North Sea was commissioned last month. Is that now full?

The Rough facility is working again, which was a commercial decision taken by the operators. The noble Lord is right about the overall quantity of supply but, of course, the countries he mentioned have no indigenous supplies of their own. We are very fortunate that some 40% of our supplies come from the North Sea.

My Lords, with the uncertainties that exist around gas supply and demand this winter and, given that 84% of supply to Northern Ireland comes through the Moffat pipeline from Scotland, can the Minister assure the House that sufficient contingencies are in place between the UK and Irish Governments to meet any significant variations in demand or supply?

I refer the noble Lord back to the Answer that I gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. We are of course extremely concerned about the upcoming winter. Many emergency drills have been held and we are in close contact with operators both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. I am pleased to say that co-operation is very good.

My Lords, is it not a failure of the Government not to make sure that there is sufficient supply for energy, both in the UK and in Ireland? Is this not a failure of government policy?

I do not agree with the noble Lord: it is not a failure of policy. The whole world has been hit by a massive supply shock due to Putin’s war in Ukraine. If the noble Lord were correct and it was a failure of this Government’s policy, why is there a failure in France, Germany and the Netherlands? These countries are on the continent as well and are also suffering from a lack of gas supplies. In fact, the UK has been helping them out by using our LNG terminals to offload gas, piping it through the interconnectors and helping our European friends to rebuild their supplies.

Are my noble friend and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland receiving regular and detailed reports from Northern Ireland civil servants about energy supply issues there in the absence of a devolved Executive?

Yes, co-operation is ongoing and all Ministers are receiving regular updates. Actually, the island of Ireland as a whole is less dependent on gas for heating than the UK: about one-third of its heating depends on natural gas, but about 80% of ours does. There is a much higher reliance on both electricity and fuel oil for heating in Northern Ireland and southern Ireland.

My Lords, in the light of the answer that the Minister has just given, I will ask him a question about England that I have asked in the past and that he will be familiar with. In the event of electricity supply cuts, what arrangements are available in Northern Ireland for people who have to rely on ventilators and other life-critical kit at home? Whom do they go to?

I had an exchange with the noble Baroness a few weeks ago about this vital matter, which is of course of great concern to us. Established provisions are in place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for vulnerable customers to be supplied temporarily.