Mixed reactions to North South Interconnector planning decision

  • Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has granted full planning permission for the North South Electricity Interconnector, which will create a 400kv overhead electricity line connecting with the Republic of Ireland.

    Two applications were previously approved by the Department for Infrastructure on 23 January 2018.

    However, following a legal challenge and court ruling, they were quashed by the courts and remitted back to the department for determination as 6,000 letters of objection were lodged, mostly from landowners in Tyrone and Armagh.

    Minister Mallon said that she has “carefully reconsidered the proposal and the up-to-date environmental information” and concluded that planning permission “should be granted for the development which remains of strategic importance for our island economy.”

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    The minister added that she has also taken into account a report by the Planning Appeals Commission which included “a full consideration of the planning issues”.

    The report endorsed the “significant strategic importance of the development for Northern Ireland and its compliance with planning policy”.

    Minister Mallon said that the Interconnector “remains crucial to handling growing demand across the electricity transmission system” and promotes greater competition within the Single Electricity Market (SEM) for wholesale electricity trading.

    She concluded: “It will also enhance network stability and support the future growth of renewable generation and help support our economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. These economic and system benefits will benefit citizens across our community.”

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    Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber welcomed the minister’s “extremely positive decision” and noted that the delivery of the North South Interconnector has been amongst the top infrastructure priorities for the Chamber’s members since 2009.

    She commented: “Businesses and employers need access to electricity in the most cost-efficient manner possible, and the Interconnector is key to achieving this.

    “Now that planning permission is in place, we would encourage all stakeholders to work together to ensure it is built-out and operational without any further delay.”

    However, not everyone is onboard with the choice. Jim Lennon, chair of SEAT (Safe Electricity Armagh and Tyrone), maintained that Minister Mallon’s decision is “premature” ahead of the publication of the Energy Strategy for Northern Ireland next year.

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    He said: “It is remarkable that, after over a decade, it is still unclear why we need the interconnector, how much it will cost and who will it benefit, particularly as Northern Ireland is a net producer of energy and Ireland operates a net deficit.

    “We are potentially sleepwalking into another RHI-style energy debacle. Northern Ireland does not have a good track record in energy policy and the public will fail to understand why they should pay for a project which is not proven when they are facing the greatest recession for generations, and when there are more pressing investments required to upgrade energy infrastructure in the west of Northern Ireland.

    “Eirgrid recently announced that an underground cable or an upgrade of the existing line are viable options for its proposals to enhance energy capacity between Kildare and Meath.

    "Why has Eirgrid/SONI refused for 13 years to consider either of these options for the North South Interconnector? If it is good enough for the people of Kildare and Meath, SEAT will accept nothing less for the people of Armagh and Tyrone.

    “We are not anti-development, but we believe any proposal must be evidence-led and properly take account of the impact it will have on local people. I agree with Minister Mallon that we need ‘to deliver a sustainable infrastructure that supports the region’s economic wellbeing and indeed improved wellbeing for all’. This project, however, fails on both counts.”

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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