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Northern Ireland businesses welcome Republic's green light for North-South Interconnector

By Margaret Canning

Planning approval by authorities in the Republic for the southern part of the North-South Interconnector is good news for business in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.

An Bord Pleanala yesterday approved an application by EirGrid, which operates electricity infrastructure in the Republic, for the construction of the overhead pylons in southern border counties.

If also approved in Northern Ireland the line will start at a substation in south Tyrone before running into counties Armagh, Monaghan, Cavan and Meath.

The approval of an application by EirGrid's counterpart, the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI), is subject to a public inquiry in February.

Business organisations here said the Republic's approval was good news and have said the interconnector could help guarantee future security of supply for electricity users, replacing ageing infrastructure on both sides of the border.

Roger Pollen, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "The North-South Interconnector is vital to providing the security of electricity supply required beyond 2021 as well as reducing stiflingly high energy bills."

Christopher Morrow, head of policy at the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the Republic's move made a positive decision at February's planning inquiry more urgent than ever.

"Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry has for a long time highlighted the North-South Interconnector as one of the key infrastructure projects that will benefit our members.

"The interconnector is vital to ensure the effective operation of an efficient all-island electricity market, to exert downward pressure on electricity prices for business and domestic consumers throughout Northern Ireland, and to utilise renewable energy resources."

But residents of parts of Northern Ireland where the interconnector will be located have hit out at the decision.

Safe Electricity Armagh and Tyrone (SEAT) has said there are health risks with an overhead connector and have instead campaigned for an underground link-up.

The organisation said around 6,500 people had signed a petition opposing the overhead line.

A spokesman said: "SEAT completely understands the need for a better energy supply and the importance of a reliable service for Northern Ireland, but it must be safe.

"We want to make it clear that SEAT is not opposing the interconnector itself.

"We, along with all the landowners and affected residents on the proposed route, are however vehemently opposed to the use of a dangerous, very high voltage overhead interconnector.

"SEAT instead proposes undergrounding the cable to reduce health and numerous other risks - it's the responsible and efficient alternative.

"We are calling on the decision-makers to scrutinise the need for the overhead interconnector and start to raise more questions about why we are not having an open debate about the new technologies that are being rapidly developed in other parts of the world."

Robin McCormick, general manager of SONI, said the An Bord Pleanala decision marked "significant progress" for the project.

"The North-South Interconnector is undoubtedly the most important infrastructure scheme on the island today and will help deliver very real benefits to domestic and commercial customers," he said.

"While this decision is encouraging, at SONI our focus remains on the planning process in Northern Ireland.

"We are putting every effort into our preparations for the public inquiry, which is due to begin in Armagh in February."

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