Warning of power cuts and soaring power prices in Northern Ireland
The lights could go out in Northern Ireland during its centenary celebrations due to an energy crisis, an MP has warned.
Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan urged people to have their candles ready for Northern Ireland's 100th anniversary - but for power blackouts rather than a birthday cake.
The warning came after an influential committee of MPs reported that the province will need more energy than can be supplied in 2021.
Power bills are set to soar unless work begins now on a cross-border interconnector, according to the report by Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The province already faces the highest energy prices in the UK but this is set to get worse unless a secure electricity supply is established quickly.
The committee has also warned that the UK's withdrawal from the EU will probably see the removal of energy funding.
Improving electricity connection between Northern Ireland and the Republic will help alleviate concerns, the report says.
The report warns it is "crucial" that the North/South interconnector clears the final planning stages and construction begins as soon as possible to ensure it is operational ahead of 2021.
Mr Kinahan, a member of the committee, said the clock is ticking to remedy a crisis that has been looming for years.
He said that unless the interconnector is established or new means of generation are developed "this could mean 'the lights going out' for local households and businesses".
The South Antrim MP said that the lack of an Executive was exacerbating the problem, "with no minister in place to even take strategic decisions".
Mr Kinahan said that in their evidence to the committee, business leaders in the CBI noted that the lack of long term certainty over Northern Ireland's energy supply has hindered its ability to attract foreign direct investment.
"If action is not taken soon we could find ourselves drifting towards an energy crisis," he said.
The report also highlights how the Moyle interconnector, between Northern Ireland and Scotland, is under-utilised.
This sytem ensures cheaper electricity and security of supply between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. However, it currently operates at half capacity due to technical restrictions which are imposed by the National Grid.
Mr Kinahan said: "The interconnector from the Republic of Ireland is stalled. The Moyle interconnector is only working one way. We're about to pull out of the EU, we've got old power stations that are coming to the end of their useful life, and we have an electricity grid that doesn't reach everywhere, so that not all the wind farms we are building can get onto it. Added to that, we have a slow planning process.
"Put all that together, and we are lacking a long-term strategy. None of the emergency measures really tackle the long-term problems thoroughly and properly.
"Get your candles ready.
"I do hope it won't come to that, but we do need to take this seriously."
Laurence Robertson MP, chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said that establishing a secure electricity supply must be a priority for both the Stormont Assembly and Westminster, warning: "The region already faces the highest energy prices in the UK, causing significant harm to the competitiveness of businesses based here and creating unacceptable levels of fuel poverty. This must not be allowed to get any worse."
The report recommends there should be further investment in the Scottish grid to enable it to work at full capacity.
It also says that whenever the Executive is restored it must work to encourage investment in the energy market.
"Difficult decisions about where future electricity supply will come from will need to be taken quickly if the current situation is not to get worse," said Mr Robertson.
Angela McGowan, CBI NI Regional Director, said earlier this month: "The business community is justifiably concerned that Northern Ireland is projected to face an electricity supply deficit from 2021," she said.
"The interconnector can address this problem, as it will reduce the risk of power shortages and blackouts, while simultaneously reducing costs."
A Department for the Economy spokesperson said it will give the report "careful consideration".