Electric power is controlled by the government through the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), established in 1927. Government policy has been to provide adequate energy to meet industrial, commercial, and private domestic needs from native resources. Hydroelectric plants have been built on the Shannon, Lee, Liffey, and Erne rivers. Turf or peat from the extensive Irish bogs supplies the staple fuel for many homes and is utilized as intermediate fuel for electricity production.
Of all European Union (EU) members, Ireland is still the most dependent on imported oil. Exploratory drilling in the Irish sector of the Atlantic Ocean began in 1973. By midyear, the Kinsale Head natural gas field, estimated to contain reserves of 1.5 billion cu ft, was discovered about 50 km (30 mi) south of Cork. Production of natural gas began in 1978 but was expected to be exhausted by the turn of the century. The UK has guaranteed a continued supply. Production from the Kinsale field met an estimated 21% of Ireland's fuel needs in 1995. The Ballycotton natural gas field, in the vicinity of the Kinsale Field, was under development in 1991.
Total installed capacity as of 2001 was 4,413,000 kW; total power production in 2000 was 22,300 million kWh, of which about 95% was from fossil fuels, mostly thermal coal and oil stations, under 4% from hydropower, and the rest from other sources. In 2000, 60% of Ireland's total energy consumption came from petroleum, 26% from natural gas, 13% from coal, and 1% from hydroelectric power. Coal production consists of high-ash semibituminous from the Connaught Field, and is used for electricity production. By the beginning of the 1980s, Ireland's rural electrification program was virtually complete.