GREEN energy minister Eamon Ryan looks set to increase Ireland's reliance on dwindling global gas supplies massively if he adopts plans unveiled last week to generate 42% of the state's electricity from renewable sources.
The Sunday Tribune has also learned that the All-Island Grid Study, which contains the proposals, also significantly underestimates the cost to consumers of the plan.
The study envisages the construction of at least 2,500 megawatts (MW) of new gasfired power stations by 2020 to act as a back-up to 5,000MW of new wind projects.
The report claims the operating costs of these stations will be almost EUR250m a year, which will be recovered from consumers by means of higher bills.
These figures, however, are based on British gas prices of around 48p per therm - the unit in which gas is traded - whereas current gas prices stand at 54p per therm. The figures also forecast that the long-term price of carbon credits will remain at EUR30 per tonne, though many analysts, such as Swiss investment bank ÜBS, believe they will hit EUR40 a tonne within five years.
A spokesman for the department admitted that the costs used by the study were set in 2005 but said they were made using the best available information at the time.
"The rises in fossil fuel prices only emphasise the importance of moving to a greater reliance on renewables because, as the minister has said, the wind blows for free," he said.
But Colin Campbell, chairman of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO), said the outdated figures called the entire plan into question, particularly as the price of gas would rise in future as it becomes more scarce. "The price assumptions are clearly wrong. British gas prices are going through the roof at the moment and will stay high."