The future security of NI energy must not be put in doubt

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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Past reportage in this newspaper has highlighted important questions about the independence of Northern Ireland’s electricity market.

The network here is run by System Operator Northern Ireland (SONI), which is owned by the Republic of Ireland’s state-owned electricity body, EirGrid.

This is a little known and little understood but fundamental aspect of our electricity provision here.

Clarity on the implications of this are all the more pertinent now, with a possible ‘no deal’ Brexit looming, perhaps as soon as late October. Security of electricity supply is a source of concern to some observers in the event of such a rupture.

Now it has emerged that the Utility Regulator will review this set-up and try to ensure that SONI is “and will continue to be, fit for purpose in securing the protection of the interests of consumers and other stakeholders”.

Such a review is timely. The DUP MLA Paul Frew is right to say that there must be no doubt over Northern Ireland’s ability to control its own energy policy.

Last year Jim Allister MLA issued an alarming assessment of the diminishing independence of SONI.

He raised the threat that a licence condition that SONI have full operational independence, and to produce regular compliance reports, was at risk of being dropped in agreement with the Utility Regulator.

The all-Ireland approach to electricity and to animal health is a pragmatic and limited concession yet it is being used by those who seek an all-Ireland approach to dismiss concerns about much greater concessions, via the backstop.

We need more than ever to find out the precise position as to the working of the current all-island single electricity market and its implication for independence of security of supply, and for consumers, not least because an overwhelming majority of SONI staff have said that the takeover by an Irish government-owned company has been bad for electricity users and payers.