Plans for a North-South interconnector have been given the green light.
It is set to create a 400kv overhead electricity line connecting with the Republic of Ireland, and has been described as “crucial” for handling growing demand across the island.
Applications were previously approved by Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure in 2018, however a legal challenge saw the two applications quashed and remitted back to the department for determination.
The scheme has been opposed by some landowners in counties Armagh and Tyrone on the route of the connection with the southern network in Co Meath.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon confirmed on Monday she has now granted full planning permission for the project.
“Following the quashing of the previous decision, I have carefully reconsidered the proposal and the up-to-date environmental information and have concluded that planning permission should be granted for the development which remains of strategic importance for our island economy,” she said.
“I have also taken into account the report by the Planning Appeals Commission that included a full consideration of the planning issues and endorsed the significant strategic importance of the development for Northern Ireland and its compliance with planning policy.
“The North-South Electricity Interconnector remains crucial to handling growing demand across the electricity transmission systems across the island of Ireland, promoting greater competition within the Single Electricity Market (SEM) for wholesale electricity trading and to protecting security of supply.
“It will also enhance network stability and support the future growth of renewable generation and help support our economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. These economic and system benefits will benefit citizens across our community.”
SONI, the electricity System Operator for Northern Ireland, welcomed the decision which it said will be a “catalyst” for the region’s response to climate change, reduce consumer costs and provide a secure long-term electricity supply.
SONI managing director Jo Aston said the interconnector is “undoubtedly the most important infrastructure scheme on the island today”.
“The project is, without question, a key enabler for economic growth as Northern Ireland emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.
“It will create local construction jobs through its delivery programme; will help reduce the cost of electricity and will provide a route to market for renewable energy at a time when the green-collar sector needs it most.
“The North-South Interconnector is the safeguard Northern Ireland needs against any changes to surplus or deficit of power generation; providing local business and foreign investors certainty that Northern Ireland offers them a clean, efficient and reliable electricity supply.”
“This vital project has been in the planning system for more than a decade, including extensive consultation and two public inquiries, neither our economy, nor our climate can wait any longer.”
Jim Lennon, chairman of SEAT (Safe Electricity Armagh and Tyrone), claimed it is “unclear why we need the interconnector, how much it will cost and who will it benefit, particularly as Northern Ireland is a net producer of energy and Ireland operates a net deficit”.
“We are potentially sleepwalking into another RHI-style energy debacle,” he said.
“Northern Ireland does not have a good track record in energy policy and the public will fail to understand why they should pay for a project which is not proven when they are facing the greatest recession for generations, and when there are more pressing investments required to upgrade energy infrastructure in the west of Northern Ireland.”