Almost a decade since the first planning application was lodged, civil servants within the Department for Infrastructure have granted approval for the North South Interconnector to increase the flow of electricity between the province and the Irish Republic.
The move, made in the absence of an Executive, has been widely hailed by a variety of business groups who have long argued that the project will reduce industry costs boosting production and job prospects.
The decision by DfI follows a series of challenges and appeal hearings on both sides of the border as those opposed to the project fought to prevent overhead lines on environmental and health grounds.
However, in reaching its decision based on a report from the Planning Appeals Commission after a four day hearing last year, the department said there was a “an urgent and compelling need for the proposed development”.
Publishing the PAC report DfI said it fully endorsed the “significant strategic importance” of the development for Northern Ireland at an international, national and regional level and its compliance with planning policy.
Ellvena Graham, president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the decision was long overdue.
“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.
Robin McCormick, general manager of systems operator SONI said working with landowners and the community would remain a priority.
“We very much welcome this positive outcome from the Department for Infrastructure,” he said.
“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.”
Utility Regulator chief eExecutive Jenny Pyper said: “While a significant period of time has elapsed since the original planning application, today’s decision represents a double boost for local energy consumers.
“As a critical piece of energy infrastructure, it will safeguard our long-term security of supply as well as making a positive impact on consumer bills.
“Consumers are currently paying around £20 million per annum because [its] absence and the resulting limitations on the flow of electricity.”