The need for the long-awaited North South electricity interconnector is “irrefutable” and critical to the long-term security of supply for Northern Ireland, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell has claimed.
Speaking during a visit to System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI), he said the importance of the project went beyond delivering savings on bills and supporting the Executive’s renewable targets.
“European energy policy is about harmonised and integrated trading across Member State markets,” he said referencing the European Commissions recent ‘State of the Energy Union 2015’ paper. On infrastructure projects it said all states must step up their work to facilitate delivery.
“Turning specifically to those projects which it has designated as critical to European energy policy, it further stated that they require “urgent political push” with too many facing delay due to permitting and consenting procedures which are taking too long to be effective,” he added.
“Today I’m giving that push and I call on others to do so.”
Accepting concerns about large infrastructure projects and their potential impacts, he said appropriate environment for consideration of those issues remained the planning process.
“It is therefore imperative that dates are set for the planning hearings as soon as possible,” he said.
Welcoming the Minister’s support for the project, SONI general manager Robin McCormick said: “The Minister has recognised the urgent need for the North South Interconnector, because Northern Ireland’s long term electricity supply, in the next decade, is hanging in the balance.
“Fossil fuel generation capacity is being reduced and older units at Northern Ireland’s power stations are being retired – together this means that by 2021 we may quite simply not have enough electricity.
“The North South interconnector is a vital part of the solution. Northern Ireland needs the interconnector to secure the electricity to homes, businesses and our economy.
The Minister’s support is welcome and we would encourage everyone to get behind this project.”
Mr Bell’s words were also welcomed by business group the FSB.
“FSB NI welcomes Mr Bell’s ‘urgent political push’, in response to the delays around permitting and consenting procedures around the construction of the North South Interconnector to ensure lights stay on in Northern Ireland after 2021,” said FSB NI policy chair Wilfred Mitchell.
“Furthermore, the construction of the interconnector has the potential to reduce the burdensome costs incurred by local businesses, paying on average 10% more for electricity than in the rest of Europe.