Assurances have been sought over the sale of two power stations in Northern Ireland to a Czech-based coal mining and energy group.
The US-based AES Corporation has agreed to offload its coal-fired power station at Kilroot and its gas-fired Ballylumford plant for an undisclosed sum.
Buyer EPH, a privately owned power company controlled by Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, said the transaction is subject to EU merger clearance and is expected to close this summer.
Kilroot had recently been facing closure after AES failed to win an all-Ireland contract to supply consumers, but was awarded a new short-term deal last year following negotiations.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson welcomed the sale of the two sites and said it was clear that current owners AES “did not seem to have any long-term commitment to providing electricity in Northern Ireland”.
The former finance minister added that he intended to meet with EPH to ask what their long-term plans are for the two plants.
East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson – who has also sought a meeting with the new owners “to help ensure there is a smooth crossover” – told the News Letter AES had offered assurances that there will be no job losses at the two plants as a result of the takeover.
Giving the announcement a “cautious welcome”, a spokesperson for trade union Unite told the News Letter: “We will be monitoring the new owners.”
Mr Wilson said it was “regrettable” that local investment interest in the two plants had been unsuccessful.
However, the East Antrim MP said: “Hopefully EPH will show long-term commitment to investment in NI and not just squeeze as much as they can out of the plants between now and 2023 when coal-fired generation has to stop.
“There is a need to ensure that Northern Ireland maintains the ability to produce its own energy especially in light of the way in which the Irish government has used the threat of cutting off electricity supply during recent Brexit negotiations.
“The uncertainty of the north-south interconnector also means that Northern Ireland could be left vulnerable to energy shortages.”
AES said it had entered into agreements to sell its interests in six power plants in Jordan and the UK for total proceeds of $211m.
Andrés Gluski, AES president and chief executive officer, said the move was part of its business strategy to “reduce the number of countries in which we operate and focus our growth efforts in fewer markets”, particularly in renewables, energy storage and natural gas.
EPH was founded in 2009. Its chairman and majority owner Mr Kretinsky owns several media outlets, and is co-owner and president of Sparta Prague football club.
As parts of Europe move away from polluting energy plants, EPH is bucking the trend by relying on coal for much of its production.