Belfast Telegraph

Electricity grid break sparks new price hike fears

By Heather McGarrigle

Northern Ireland has lost its electricity link-up with Great Britain, which could lead to yet another hike in bills.

The Moyle electricity interconnector, operated by Mutual Energy Limited (MEL) links Northern Ireland and Scotland, allowing the flow of electricity to and from the grid here and the grids in Great Britain.

Following two separate faults in two months, the interconnector is now unavailable.

MEL's chief executive said there should be no interruption to supply.

Paddy Larkin said: "When the Moyle supply is cut off, a back-up generator will kick in. There shouldn't be any problem with availability of electricity in Northern Ireland."

However, the interconnector allows Northern Ireland to take advantage of cheaper electricity from Great Britain.

With Northern Ireland facing months without this access to lower priced electricity, there are concerns about further price hikes.

It follows this month's news that Power NI's prices are to rise by up to 20% in October.

Economist John Simpson said: "It does pose a risk that electricity prices will go up, if only by a small margin."

Chair of the enterprise committee Alban McGuinness described the breakdown as "disappointing news" but was "confident" prices would not be affected.

He said: "I hope this will be resolved soon and not indeed take a matter of months.

"As prices are regulated, the cost of the problem is absorbed by the supplier rather than the consumer."

The interconnector consists of two cables, one of which was put out of action on June 25. A fault was discovered on the second cable on August 24. Typically, such faults take around six months to analyse and repair.

"The first fault is offshore at a water depth of 140m, so it's impossible to get divers to it.

"All the work will be carried out remotely, with specialised boats and remotely operated vehicles," Paddy Larkin said.

With the second fault located close to shore and at a depth of 20m, Mr Larkin is hoping for a shorter period of investigation here.

He said the company hoped to have a maintenance contract in place within the next week to 10 days.

If both cables can be worked on simultaneously, repairs could be complete by Christmas.

Mr Larkin said there would be an investigation into the causes of the breakdown.

"Two faults in succession within a few months certainly raises concerns but we won't know for sure until we get these cables up, dissect them and investigate the problems."