£200m bid to find a new gas supplier for homes in west of Northern Ireland
Mains gas to homes and businesses in the west of Northern Ireland has taken a step closer with the launch of a competition to find a utility company to build a new pipeline.
The ambitious plan will see £200m invested in the project which will bring gas to the towns of Strabane, Omagh, Enniskillen, Derrylin, Dungannon, Coalisland, Cookstown and Magherafelt.
The Utility Regulator, which launched the competition today, said it would open up the gas network to 40,000 new customers.
It estimated another £200m of "economic benefits" from energy savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
"This expansion is a vote of confidence in the natural gas industry in Northern Ireland," Jenny Pyper, chief executive of the regulator said.
"It will bring the benefits of natural gas to domestic and commercial consumers in the west of Northern Ireland.
"This significant investment will provide choice, strengthen the competitiveness of the Northern Ireland energy market and promote further investment."
Bidders for the project are expected to come from a number of utility companies but it's not yet known whether Mutual Energy, which operates the Moyle Interconnector electricity line between Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as a gas pipeline between the two countries, will bid for the work.
It is government-backed so can borrow money at a cheaper rate than commercial utilities.
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minster Arlene Foster welcomed the launch of the competition.
"I look forward to appointment of a licensee in due course, and the beginning of design and planning activities, which should see the early provision of new gas infrastructure to give business and domestic consumers additional energy choice," she said.
"I also look forward to the contribution to the local economy which will be provided by construction works to lay new gas pipes and connect energy consumers to the gas network.''