Political Agenda: Brexit is brewing trouble for Ireland's energy market
The island of Ireland has an urgent need to address challenges before north-south energy interconnection projects, says David Blackman
During the Troubles, the IRA used to take potshots at what was then the sole electricity link across the Irish border because it was one of the most visible signs of cross-border co-operation. Paramilitary bombing took the facility out of action for nearly 20 years until after the Good Friday agreement.
The reopening of the interconnector has enabled a single energy market to emerge across the island of Ireland, delivering lower bills and more secure supplies for customers on both sides of the border. But Brexit means the future of cross-border relationships between the Republic and the UK will still be fraught.
Concerns over a new interconnector between Northern Ireland and the Republic, running through Country Armagh, are more aesthetic than sectarian. To carry the wires across the border would involve the erection of 401 pylons, just over a quarter of which will have to be built in Northern Ireland.
The impact on the landscape means the decision on the project has been referred to Ulster’s Planning Appeals Commission, which has yet to issue its verdict following a public inquiry in February.
With Northern Ireland looking set to fall into energy supply deficit by 2021, a House of Commons select committee report this week urges the commission to make its decision by the end of this year. Businesses in Northern Ireland already have to pay higher energy bills than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK. As the most peripheral part of the UK adjusts to life outside after Brexit, it will need all the help it can to remain competitive.
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