Natural gas on 
way to 
west – 

THE supply of natural gas to the west of the Province was hailed yesterday as a major boost for business in the region as the Executive confirmed it is to part-fund the expansion of the network.

After years of debate during which industry in particular had paid a heavy premium through being forced to rely on oil and electricity alone, Energy Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the administration’s support for extension of the network with an investment worth £32.5million.

“I am very pleased that Executive ministers have stated their support for my proposals to extend the provision of natural gas to the main towns in the west, including Dungannon, Coalisland, Cookstown, Magherafelt, Omagh, Strabane, and to Enniskillen and Derrylin in Co Fermanagh,” said Mrs Foster who is a Fermanagh MLA.

“This is a good news story and a positive commitment by the Executive.

“Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel. By extending the gas network, it is my intention to see some 34,000 additional business and domestic consumers in the west benefiting from the current lower cost, convenience, and efficiency which natural gas provides.”

The Executive has committed to part-fund new gas transmission pipelines to a series of main towns following a public consultation on gas extension during 2011, and more recent completion of a detailed economic appraisal by Mrs Foster’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

“New natural gas provision will help to lower manufacturing and production costs for businesses, thus improving their competitiveness, and will also help to reduce the level of fuel poverty affecting some domestic consumers,” she added.

“The Utility Regulator will be consulting in early 2013 on licensing issues for gas provision in the west, and plans to have gas licences awarded around the end of the year. This will allow a gas company to commence network design, seek planning approval, and deal with environmental and wayleave issues, with the aim of commencing work on the construction of new gas pipelines in 2015. In the meantime, the Department will be engaging with the EU Commission seeking state aid approval for the subvention.”

The project to provide new gas transmission and distribution networks in the west of Northern Ireland is estimated to cost around £200million, and will provide both short-term and longer term construction and engineering jobs.

“Investing in our energy infrastructure benefits several sectors of the economy. Provision of new gas infrastructure will be welcome news for the hard-pressed construction and engineering sectors as well as providing longer term jobs in the gas distribution and supply industries.

“I am also committed to seeing greater availability of natural gas to consumers in other parts of Northern Ireland where it is economically viable to provide new gas infrastructure.

“My department will continue to work with the Utility Regulator in relation to how gas might be provided to additional areas such as east Down where gas loads have already been identified.”

A Phoenix Natural Gas spokesman said the business was pleased with the announcement after 16 years of supply in the Belfast area.

“Throughout this period of investment and development a successful natural gas industry has emerged made up of around 400 local companies, employing around 3,000 people.

“Phoenix has been pushing for the natural gas networks here to be extended further to east Down and the west for some six years now.

“The recent Lord Whitty Report, commissioned by the Consumer Council, estimated that the average household customer is saving on average £1,181 per year by using natural gas compared to heating oil, with many businesses saving millions each year.”