NATIONAL grid operator Eirgrid is planning to build a €1bn underwater power line linking Ireland with France.
The Irish Independent has learned that consultants will be appointed next month to complete a feasibility study to help decide if a 600km interconnector is technically possible.
The line would be used to export renewable energy to France and import power if required.
Two possible routes have already been identified – from Knochraha near Roche's Point in Cork to La Martyre on the west coast of Brittany, and the second from Great Island in Wexford, also to La Martyre.
Eirgrid already operates the East West interconnector, which runs under the sea from Dublin to Wales, and cost €570m.
It is also planning a second between the Republic and Northern Ireland, called the North South interconnector.
However, a number of technical reports will have to be completed before a decision is made to proceed with a third, which is being promoted by Eirgrid and its French counterpart RTE (Reseau de Transport d'Electricite).
"It would cost somewhere in the region of €1bn," one source said.
"The French have large obligations to get renewables on to their system and we have better renewable sources. This will allow them to take our wind energy, and use their power."
Initial studies over recent months suggest that an interconnector could be beneficial for electricity customers in both Ireland and France.
This is because it helps secure supply, and can result in lower prices for customers because there is more competition in the market.
The capacity of the Ireland-France interconnector will be some 700 megawatts, or the equivalent of the power demand of about 450,000 households.
Preliminary studies suggest the interconnector would run for 463km under sea if the Knochraha, Co Cork, route is chosen, and between 453km and 488km on the line from Great Island.
When connections to sub-stations on land are taken into account, the entire length could be 600km.
Four separate reports are needed before a final decision is made on giving the project the go-ahead.
The first, which is the subject of a current tender, is a desktop exercise and involves reporting on preferred routes, licences required and preparing technical detail for the marine seabed survey. The work is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Three other studies are then needed – a seabed survey, a cable route section study, and a final report called Inputs to Enquiry for Turnkey Contract, which involves preparing a budget and gathering all the technical data.
The final report is due at the end of 2015, after which a decision will be made.