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Northern Ireland energy market is facing 'huge backward step' without EU deal

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's energy market will take a "huge, retrograde step" if a deal on preserving the single electricity market is not reached following Brexit, it's been claimed.

Steve Holliday, a former chief executive of the National Grid, said consumers here could also face higher prices if the single market for electricity was not preserved.

He said planning for the future North South Interconnector - a series of pylons between Northern Ireland and the Republic to maintain security of supply, which won planning permission last year - could also be affected by Brexit.

Mr Holliday, now vice-president of the UK Energy Institute, addressed an event for members in Belfast last night and said that Brexit had prompted a large number of "red flags" for the energy market.

The event was also attended by Jenny Pyper, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator.

Speaking ahead of the event, Mr Holliday said: "We've got an energy market that we are part of across Northern Ireland and Great Britain which is interacting with Europe. We need to protect that access to energy across Europe, and that's in particularly sharp focus for Northern Ireland because of the interconnector.

"Because you've done so much towards achieving the integrated single electricity market, it would seem a huge retrograde step for energy and the price of energy if we do not end up protecting the single energy market and exploring options in the EU's internal market."

He said the decision by US company AES to close its power station at Kilroot in Co Antrim following an auction to supply the i-SEM was a consequence of the move to cleaner energy.

"You've seen a similar thing on the mainland where renewables have come into play and coal stations have shut. Ireland has done a fantastic job of shifting to cleaner energy. It's a great success story and what the future is all about," he said.

Mr Holliday said the proposed interconnector "needs to go ahead unhindered".

"Interconnectors do exactly what it says on the tin... it enables you to get access to cheaper energy and by tapping into bigger markets you improve reliability and resilience," he said.

The interconnector has met with opposition from groups in Tyrone, Armagh, Monaghan, Cavan and Meath, where the pylons will be built. Some opponents have said the pylons should be placed underground instead.

Mr Holliday said: "You need a very sensible debate between local communities, the regulator and the company. Let's find a compromise."

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