Belfast Telegraph

Consumers face shock if NIE fails to connect soon

Planned north-south interconnector 'critical' for future of energy supply

By Margaret Canning

There were calls for work to start on the proposed north-south connnector after an influential report said its delay could result in energy shortages.

The overhead interconnector planned by NIE for Tyrone to Meath since 2009 would increase capacity north and south to generate electricity, including from renewable energy.

But it's opposed by landowners and residents who fear unsightly pylons will ruin their surroundings. Plans have been stalled on either side of the border – prompting the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) to claim that Northern Ireland faced "serious energy shortages" if work was not started. But the Department of the Environment yesterday said it hoped a public inquiry on the proposals for Ireland's second cross-border interconnector would soon resume.

And the Republic's Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte has said he hopes the process south of the border can proceed "as soon as possible".

The public inquiry opened in 2012, but was adjourned for a consultation after a new application was received from NIE last year.

A spokeswoman for the DoE said last night: "The consultation process is almost complete and the department hopes to be in a position in the near future to ask the Planning Appeals Commission to reconvene the public inquiry."

In its state of the nation report yesterday, ICE said Northern Ireland needed a "world-class" infrastructure – and pointed to the interconnector, the A5 and energy from waste plants as projects whose delay was holding back development.

Reductions of capacity at power stations in Northern Ireland, and the diminished capacity of the Moyle interconnector, would create problems by 2021, ICE said.

"If the second north-south interconnector is not in place at this stage, then the risk to security of supply becomes very high indeed."

Other voices joined the cry for the process to be resumed.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Consumer Council said: "It's vital the issue of the north-south interconnector is resolved as quickly as possible. Not having it costs consumers £25m per year."

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment said: "Northern Ireland currently has an adequate supply of energy. The minister has worked with relevant authorities to make sure this remains the case and will take further action if necessary."

The Utility Regulator has said it is "vital" that the inter-onnector is delivered as soon as possible.

Richard Murphy, energy partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, said the interconnector would enable the grid to take on more energy from renewable sources, especially wind.

He added: "There needs to be a much more streamlined and robust process – and a bit more leadership in delivery of a critical piece of infrastructure like this."

Andrew Ryan, head of the environment and planning team at law firm Tughans, added that the interconnector was "a fundamental part of hitting 40% renewable energy targets by 2020.

"The existing interconnector only flows from north to south and there's no capacity for it to flow the other way," he added.

But Sinn Fein energy spokesman Phil Flanagan said it supported underground inter-connectors, with his party proposing that an underground connector could be built on the proposed route of the A5 between Dublin and Derry.

Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI also called it a "critical" piece of infrastructure.

"The delay in implementation is causing bills to rise and creating uncertainty for businesses looking to establish wind farms."

Contract to supply extra capacity will avert immediate crisis

The report on the state of the infrastructure in Northern Ireland for services such as electricity, water, waste management, gas and transport, prepared by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), draws attention to some of the deficiencies faced by the Northern Ireland Executive.

In particular, ICE presents the evidence that on present known electricity generation plans, the margin of spare capacity will fall to uncomfortably low levels by the end of 2015 and into a negative shortage in 2020. To have a safe margin of spare generating capacity would justify the construction of extra capacity, or links to alternative sources, within two years.

This problem has been recognised for some time. Such is the serious concern that the minister, Arlene Foster, has endorsed an invitation to tender issued by SONI (Systems Operator Northern Ireland) for the extra capacity. The closing date for receipt of tenders was June 16.

The original plan is that a contract will be awarded by July 30 for extra generation capacity to be available from January 2016 for an initial period of three years, with the potential to extend the contract for a further two years.

This contract is being awarded working on the assumption that the Moyle Interconnector with Scotland will only be operating on about 50% capacity for the next couple of years and also in the knowledge that the proposed cross-border interconnector, north-south from near Moy, has still not even received planning approval.

The contract now being assessed is to either provide between 220mw and 300mw of extra plant or, less likely, a proposal that would have the ability to reduce electricity demand by an equivalent amount. In further explanation, the tender outline adds that it is ‘currently SONI’s intention to award a single contract to cover all of its requirements’.

The immediate possible crisis is now less serious since it is understood that SONI has received credible bids for the early supply of capacity. The greater long-term threat is that the cross-border interconnector is still stalled. Without early approval for this inter-connector, a large question mark hangs over the viability of the Single Electricity Market.

Even today, there are transmission constraints without the interconnector which are costing customers over £20m a year. This is a serious and urgent problem.

Belfast Telegraph