Interconnector to power ahead?

Northern Ireland businesses could face an increase in electricity costs if the North South Interconnector is not given the go-ahead.

That was the warning delivered by Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) and SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland) at an event in Magherafelt recently.

Over 50 members of the business community joined NI Chamber and SONI at the facilities of local roller blind manufacturer Bloc Blinds to receive a briefing on the project.

The North South Interconnector, an electricity overhead line between Tyrone and Meath, will provide a high capacity link between the electricity systems in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In a project costing £204 million, it is seen as one of the most important infrastructure developments here in recent years as it will ensure Northern Ireland has the security of electricity supply it needs post 2021. Significantly also for businesses, having the North South Interconnector in place will allow for the Single Electricity Market to deliver its full value to customers. Currently the SEM isn’t producing all the benefits it should because the North South Interconnector is not in place. By removing the constraints that exist on the current network and allowing more power to flow between NI and ROI, the North South Interconnector will facilitate more competition and result in downward pressure on consumers’ bills.

The North South Interconnector has been in the planning process since 2009 and a Planning Inquiry is to be held in February 2017 with a planning outcome expected later in the year.

Robin McCormick, General Manager of SONI, said: “The North South Interconnector will help deliver very real benefits to commercial and domestic electricity users throughout the island. It will ensure that our indigenous businesses, such as those here in the Mid-Ulster engineering belt have the secure supply of power purchased from an efficient market that they need to grow. It will send signals to Foreign Direct Investors that Northern Ireland has a secure electricity supply and it will allow the Single Electricity Market to operate efficiently, increasing competition and driving down electricity prices.

“It is without doubt the most important infrastructure project on the island today. We are grateful for the support of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and to those key Mid Ulster businesses who have been vocal in calling for delivery of the project. We are developing the grid in an inclusive way and central to this is working hand-in-hand with business.”

Kirsty McManus, Head of Business Development at NI Chamber, continued: “The North South Interconnector is vital to ensure the effective operation of an efficient all-island electricity market, to exert downward pressure on electricity prices for business and domestic consumers throughout Northern Ireland, and to utilise renewable energy resources.

“Importantly, the project is urgently required to improve security of electricity supply in Northern Ireland. To this regard, the timely delivery of the proposed interconnector will allow the all-island wholesale electricity market to work more efficiently, enabling wider competition between power generators and electricity suppliers throughout the island, and therefore ensuring that future electricity prices will be as competitive as possible.”

Also speaking at the event was Cormac Diamond, Managing Director of Bloc Blinds added: “We are delighted to host NI Chamber’s latest Energy Forum at Bloc Blinds. With energy efficiency at the forefront of our minds at Bloc, the aim of our Design team is to develop products which are circular in their design and by that I mean coming from and/or giving back to the environment in some way. For example our Fabric Changer roller blinds combat aluminium waste in landfills due to the fact that the barrel of our system is designed to last a lifetime, as opposed to 7-8 years which is the norm with many other roller blinds. The fabric of the blind is swapped as and when desired, the rest of the system remains in place, hereby reducing waste and creating an increased life cycle of a staple product in many households.

“As a large manufacturer and employer in the Mid-Ulster area we are very aware of the need to be energy conscious. We do our best to practice energy efficiency within our business both in our actual premises and the production procedures we carry out on a daily basis. Our factory itself has been developed with this mindset with the heating and motion sensor lighting throughout. With that in mind we welcome advice and updates on how this can be improved and built upon as we endeavour to continue to be a leading innovator in all aspects of our company.”