A new £200m electricity inter-connector between Northern Ireland and the Republic has been given the green light.
The north-south inter-connector, which would go through Tyrone, Armagh, Cavan, Monaghan and into Meath, is proposed by electricity system operator System Operator Northern Ireland (SONI) and its owner EirGrid in the Republic.
Today, the Northern Ireland element of the development was awarded approval, following a review by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC).
Approval was granted by the Department for Infrastructure.
This afternoon, SONI welcomed the planning approval for the scheme.
Robin McCormick, general manager of SONI, said:
“We very much welcome this positive outcome from the Department for Infrastructure. The North South Interconnector is undoubtedly the most important infrastructure scheme on the island today and will deliver very real benefits to domestic and commercial consumers.
“It has received strong support from businesses and employers because of the positive impact it will have on the economy, and from consumer groups as it will help reduce the cost of electricity.
“While we recognise this project is to the benefit of everyone, we will continue to work to ensure that it is delivered at the least possible impact to the communities and landowners who are hosting it.
“In the coming months we will hand over the project to NIE Networks who will construct the interconnector, in the meantime we will be on the ground engaging with landowners and the community, ensuring they remain up-to-date on progress and timelines.”
And Ellvena Graham, president of NI Chamber, said:
"The delivery of the north-south Interconnector has been amongst the top infrastructure priorities for our members since 2009.
"We therefore welcome the department’s decision to grant permission for the project despite the lack of an Infrastructure Minister at Stormont – an action which will significantly speed up the delivery of the project.
"The north-south Interconnector is urgently required to improve security of electricity supply in Northern Ireland. To this regard, the timely delivery of the proposed interconnector will allow the all-island wholesale electricity market to work more efficiently, enabling wider competition between power generators and electricity suppliers throughout the island, and therefore ensuring that future electricity prices will be as competitive as possible."
"Businesses and employers need access to electricity in the most cost efficient manner possible, and the Interconnector is key to achieving this."
Utility Regulator, chief executive, Jenny Pyper, said:
"I very much welcome today’s announcement by the Department for Infrastructure which paves the way for the construction of the much needed second north-south electricity connector."
Businesses last year called for a swift decision after the PAC announced that it had sent its recommendation on whether the 60km of overhead pylons, intended to improve security of supply across the border, should be built.
It held a public inquiry into the plans in Co Armagh earlier this year.
Residents of border areas around Co Tyrone, Armagh and Cavan have said they are opposed to the North-South Interconnector, arguing that, instead, pipes should be laid below ground, an option which SONI has said is not feasible.
Gary McGhee, partner at Carson McDowell, which worked with SONI on the application, said the interconnector is of “huge importance to both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as it will deliver enhanced levels of electricity security of supply, facilitate major renewable energy projects and exert downward pressure on electricity prices”.
Kirsty McManus, national director of the Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland, said:
"This decision finally puts to rest what had been the very real prospect of a ‘lights out’ scenario for Northern Ireland, and will be a major game-changer for the local economy by vastly improving security of supply and the efficiency of our electricity network.
"When complete, it will reduce the costs of electricity to both domestic and business consumers so the benefits to the economy as a whole are obvious.
“We agree with the Department of Infrastructure’s assertion that the project should progress without any further delay and urge all relevant stakeholders to work together to help make this happen.”
Head of energy for Ireland at law firm Pinsent Masons, Richard Murphy said: "Although long overdue, today’s decision is welcome for the energy sector as well as engineering and construction.
"The interconnector is vital if the new Irish Single Electricity Market (I-SEM) is to realise its full potential. Operational from May 23, I-SEM is the single biggest change in the island’s energy market for a decade, and the efficient movement of energy is at the heart of those reforms aimed at maintaining a downward pressure on consumer bills."
Roger Pollen, FSB NI head of external affairs, said:
"Small business has been clear that in order to ensure security of supply going forward, to make sure the lights don’t go out, Northern Ireland needs to develop its energy capacity.
"The north-south interconnector has the potential to ensure security of supply, while at the same time creating downward pressure on energy prices and relieving the cost burden on small businesses.
“The move today to grant the project full planning permission is one which will be welcomed by businesses across Northern Ireland."