Northern Ireland businesses could face even higher electricity prices without urgent action to make progress on the long-awaited and controversial North South Interconnector.
That was the warning delivered by Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) and SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland) at an event in Magherafelt.
More than 50 members of the business community joined NI Chamber and SONI at the facilities of local roller blind manufacturer Bloc Blinds to receive a briefing on the project.
The North South Interconnector, an electricity overhead line between Tyrone and Meath, will provide a high capacity link between the electricity systems in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in a project costing £204 million.
It is seen as one of the most important infrastructure developments here in recent years as it will ensure Northern Ireland has the security of electricity supply it needs post 2021.
By removing the constraints that exist on the current network and allowing more power to flow between NI and ROI, the North South Interconnector will facilitate more competition and result in downward pressure on consumers’ bills.
The project has been in the planning process since 2009 and a planning inquiry is to be held in February 2017 with a planning outcome expected later in the year.
“The North South Interconnector will help deliver very real benefits to commercial and domestic electricity users throughout the island,” said SONI general manager Robin McCormick.
“It will ensure that our indigenous businesses have the secure supply of power purchased from an efficient market that they need to grow.
“It will send signals to Foreign Direct Investors that Northern Ireland has a secure electricity supply and it will allow the Single Electricity Market to operate efficiently, increasing competition and driving down electricity prices.
“It is without doubt the most important infrastructure project on the island today. We are grateful for the support of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and to those businesses who have been vocal in calling for delivery of the project. We are developing the grid in an inclusive way and central to this is working hand-in-hand with business.”
The project has received support across the business community. Kirsty McManus, Head of Business Development at NI Chamber, said:
“The North South Interconnector is vital to ensure the effective operation of an efficient all-island electricity market, to exert downward pressure on electricity prices for business and domestic consumers throughout Northern Ireland, and to utilise renewable energy resources.
“Importantly, the project 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.”