Pylons delay 'will push up cost of electricity'
Work on a new electricity transmission system between Northern Ireland and the Republic must start "urgently", it was claimed last night.
EirGrid warned that inaction will push up the cost of bills on both sides of the Border and leave Northern residents vulnerable to outages.
Plans for the North-South Interconnector, a pylon-based electricity transmission line proposed between Meath and Tyrone, have been plagued by delays over the past year.
Project architect EirGrid received a fresh blow in recent weeks when an independent committee set up to investigate pylons said the interconnector may come under its remit – meaning the project would be stalled until the committee gave the go-ahead.
This could delay the project by several months at least, EirGrid chief executive Fintan Slye told the Irish Independent.
The Independent Pylon Review Panel, which was originally set up to consider the viability of pylons in less urgent projects Grid West and Grid Link, confirmed to the Irish Independent that it hadn't yet decided whether the North- South Interconnector would fall under its remit.
"The expert panel has made no decision in this regard to date," a statement from the Department of Communications and Energy said.
Delays to the North-South Interconnector are causing major problems, warned Mr Slye. Projects proposed for the Republic such as Grid Link and Grid West are not scheduled for delivery until 2019/2020, but the North-South project is already overdue.
There's only one high-capacity electricity transmission line connecting Northern Ireland and the Republic, Mr Slye said, causing bottlenecks which push up bills for customers across the island and leave customers living in and near the North vulnerable to outages.
Northern Ireland's security supply margin will be extremely tight from 2016 on as one of the North's electricity generation plants is closing down and it will be more dependant than ever on supplies from the Republic.
"From their perspective, in terms of keeping the lights on, it's very urgent," he said.
EirGrid came close to getting the go-ahead for the project, which uses pylons, last year. But it fell at the last hurdle, when an error was discovered in its planning application.
The statutory notices used to inform the public of the plans did not correctly convey the height of the pylons being used and EirGrid was forced to withdraw the application.
The project was hit by further setbacks in the months after, as public debate over the use of pylons in electricity transmission reached fever pitch and the Government came under intense pressure to consider other options, such as wiring cables under the ground.
The Independent Pylon Review Panel set up to review the issue had originally excluded the North-South Interconnector from its remit, but Taoiseach Enda Kenny is understood to have asked them to look into it amid pressure from TDs in border counties.
The committee is chaired by former Supreme Court justice Catherine McGuinness.
Mr Slye told the Irish Independent that there had already been two investigations into the North-South Interconnector, one by PB Power and another by the Government.