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Concerns over handling of interconnector

18 April 2012

TUV Leader Jim Allister has expressed concern that DETI and the Utility Regulator are rushing into another north-south electricity connector without adequately examining all the options and ensuring that if the interconnector proceeds it will be on the basis most beneficial to Northern Ireland consumers.


In a statement Jim Allister MLA said:-

“Quite apart from the controversy about the route and mode of a new interconnector, there are fundamental questions which I feel have never been addressed.


“Some experts in the electricity field are telling me that a high efficiency new gas fired power station within Northern Ireland should be considered as a viable alternative, and that greater interconnection with the British mainland, where prices are cheaper, should be examined before rushing into an ESB controlled interconnector which will be used to feed high cost electricity from inefficient ROI plant into Northern Ireland.


“Thus, recently I asked the DETI Minister if any cost-benefit modelling of these various options had been undertaken. Though the answer avoids the issue, it is clear there has been no such cost-benefit modelling. This is disappointing and indicative of a one track mindset which is not serving the interests of the local consumer.


I am equally disappointed to discover that if a new interconnector proceeds it seems likely to be in the absence of available measures to guarantee it is not merely an extension of the ESB’s monopoly control. In this regard I asked the minister for assurance that a new interconnector would be put out to tender so that someone other than ESB would have the opportunity to operate it in competition with the existing interconnector. I also asked if it would be built as ‘merchant plant’ so that it would operate at its own risk in the market. The answer failed to take up these options, confirming instead that it would be operated by SONI (owned by Eirgrid plc), which effectively means a green light for more southern monopoly.


Given that NI consumers are already paying considerably more for their electricity than elsewhere in the UK and that the Single Electricity Market has widened that gap, I am deeply concerned that we are set on a course which will compound the situation by tying us into production and transmission arrangements which serve only the purpose of ROI state interests. It is these interests which will benefit from twinning their inefficient plant with our vulnerable consumers.”


Recent Qs & As 



To ask the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (i) whether her Department, or the Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulation, has undertaken cost-benefit modelling of the benefits of having (a) a latest generation, high efficiency flexible gas fired power station constructed, instead of the Electricity Supply Board providing electricity through the North/South interconnector; and (b) greater electricity interconnection with the British mainland and access to its cheaper electricity; and (ii) for her assessment of whether either of these options could potentially offer greater benefits to consumers than the proposed North/South interconnector.


Investing in new power stations is a commercial decision that depends on a company’s ability to trade competitively. It must be able to move its power through a reliable electricity grid with adequate interconnection capacity with Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

The planned North South Interconnector will provide the capacity needed to promote investment and competition, while restoring the Moyle interconnector to Scotland and introduction of the interconnector between the Irish Republic and Wales will improve electricity flows into and out of the market to the benefit of consumers.



To ask the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, if the new north/south interconnector proceeds, (i) whether it will be put out to tender so that an organisation other than the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) could build and operate it in competition with the existing interconnector, or whether it is assumed that ESB will build and operate it; (ii) if so, whether it will be built as a merchant plant operating in the market at its own risk, or on the basis of a guaranteed regulated income; and (iii) for her assessment of these options for the benefit of consumers in Northern Ireland.


The Utility Regulator has yet to make a decision on the method of procurement to be used under European procurement law. The interconnector would be regulated as part of the Northern Ireland transmission system and operated by SONI, the transmission system operator for Northern Ireland.

The Utility Regulator has a duty to ensure that its decisions ensure value for money and protect customers.



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NI politics