“Two significant events have characterised the past 12 months for AES in Northern Ireland,” says Mark Miller, managing director of AES Kilroot Power Ltd and Northern Ireland country manager. “The first related to the decision by the Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulation to cancel the power off-take agreements for the coal-fired units at Kilroot, while the second and arguably most exciting was the purchase of the 1,246MW Ballylumford Power Station. Given the proximity to Kilroot, there are synergies between the businesses that will promote more efficient operations in the future.”
AES made its first strides into the local energy market of Northern Ireland back in 1992 when it acquired the Kilroot Power Station and Belfast West Power Station (which closed in 2002) as part of its international expansion plans. With the purchase of the larger gas-fired Ballylumford plant, AES is today established as the largest independent electricity generator on the island of Ireland.
Based on the north shore of Belfast Lough, the Kilroot Power Station is a dual coal and oil-fired facility, comprised of two generators, each capable of producing 260MW when firing oil. In addition a the plant has black start capability via two 29MW Avon powered open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) units fuelled by distillate. These units also provide peaking support for the system.
The first Kilroot unit went into service in February 1981 and the following year the plant was officially completed. In the aftermath of the oil crisis of 1985 it was recommended that the Kilroot units be converted to the dual coal/oil firing systems in order to reduce Northern Irelands’ 90 per cent dependence on oil. Units 1 and 2 were converted in 1986 and 1989 respectively and the power station has run almost exclusively on coal ever since. The Kilroot Power Station remains the only coal-fired plant in Northern Ireland offering valuable fuel diversity in a system dominated by natural gas. IrelandAdditionally, in 2009 AES installed two 42 MW Frame 6 OCGT, fuelled by distillate, to provide peaking capacity.
The Ballylumford Power Station consists of three generating plants: 1) the 600 MW C Station which commenced operations in 2003 and includes two Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) with combined efficiency of 48 per cent running on natural gas and the ability to burn distillate as back-up fuel, 2) the 540 MW B Station which was constructed in 1974 and includes three natural gas units, each of which has an operating capacity of 180 MW, and 3) 112 MW OCGT units, which began operations in 1976 and provide peaking services for grid support and emergency response. The CCGT, one of the three thermal units and the OCGT units are contracted to NIE Energy Ltd under long term Power Purchase Agreements, while the remaining ‘B’ Station units sell their output on a merchant basis into the Irish Single Electricity Market.
Although the company plays a very important role in meeting the electricity needs of the whole of Northern Ireland, AES also prides itself on being an integral part of the local communities it is based in: “Community and social responsibility continue to be high priorities for the businesses. AES interacts with and supports a wide range of initiatives that include active membership in the local Chamber of Commerce, donations to various charities and supporting local school programmes, in part by offering educational tours of the plant,” Mark continues. “The company also provides opportunities for under and post graduates to gain experience in expert fields such as mechanical engineering, business and information technology.”
As a global business powerhouse, there are obvious benefits that come from being a part of the AES Corporation: “Aside from the usual range of support services the businesses have access to from the Corporation, such as technical, financial and human resources, probably the most important aspect of being part of AES relates to the values that underpin all AES businesses around the world,” Mark explains. “These values are applied to all operations, at all times, by all AES people.
“AES always puts safety first and this applies to all of its people and contractors as well as the communities it operates in. Integrity is also at the core of everything the Corporation does and drives how it conducts itself at all times and how it interacts with customers and stakeholders. Another value is that AES strives for excellence and to be the best in all that it does, consistently performing at a world-class level. Last, but not least, the Corporation takes the view that its work should be fun, fulfilling and exciting. It is important to enjoy the work you are doing and appreciate the fun that can be gained from working as part of a team that is actively making a difference. When the work done by AES stops being like this, it will change the way it does things to bring that sense of enjoyment and purpose back.”
Aside from these core values and beliefs that guide the people who work at the Kilroot and Ballylumford power stations, there is a strength of the businesses that Mark is keen to highlight: “What impresses me most about the teams is their ability to adapt to a wide range of challenges and push the boundaries in developing credible and value creating solutions. There is certainly a strong sense of ownership amongst the staff and the people at the plants take huge pride in delivering optimum levels of performance.”
The electricity industry on the island of Ireland has gone through significant change over the last few years and it is these changes and the challenges that come hand-in-hand, that is driving AES forward: “The reduction in system demand in recent years, changing commodity prices and the increase in renewable generation has altered the running regime of many conventional generators within the Single Electricity Market,” Mark concludes. “The power sector faces many obstacles in the coming decade due to ever increasing pressures from tighter environmental controls, aggressive renewables targets and the implementation of market integration efforts across the European Union.
“In the context of the wide range of issues facing the business, one of the next strategic decisions will be in relation to the Industrial Emissions Directive which will impose more restrictive NOx and SOx limits. The main focus for the team over the next few years will be to understand how the AES Kilroot and Ballylumford businesses fit into the market with the changes that are taking place. In the meantime however, the company will continue to play a major role in supplying customers in Northern Island with safe, reliable and cost effective power.”
Services Power generation