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Plans to build a much-needed North South electricity interconnector in Ireland have moved one step closer after planning permission was approved for 138km of overhead lines in the southern section.
In December, An Bord Pleanála approved the application by EirGrid to construct almost 300 pylons in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan following a 12-week oral hearing.
The construction had been opposed by almost 200 land-owners and this was noted by An Bord Pleanála inspector Breda Gannon within nine conditions set out for the planning.
He also pointed to Health Service Executive (HSE) findings that there should be no concern about electromagnetic fields surrounding the pylons as long as the interconnector is properly monitored and operated in line with international standards.
The approval puts the onus on the requirement for permission to be granted to the northern section, for which a long-lasting public inquiry is due to resume in February.
If approved in the North, the interconnector will start at a sub-station in south Tyrone and on to Armagh before crossing the border.
The public inquiry in the North first commenced back in 2012 but had to be adjourned after it emerged that the planning application and environmental statement had not been properly advertised.
A decision will be taken on SONI’s application, who are overseeing the Northern Ireland section of the interconnector, by the Infrastructure Minister once the public inquiry is completed.
Speaking recently, Robin McCormick, SONI General Manager, outlined the necessity for the interconnector and described it as “the single most important energy infrastructure project on the island today”.
McCormick says that ageing generating units at Ballylumford and Kilroot will leave Northern Ireland with a significant shortfall in terms of generation. “As the system operator I can’t stand up and speak confidently about keeping the lights on beyond 2020. I have concerns about not having enough generation capacity for all reasonable scenarios. We are at a critical juncture in the planning process and everything now needs to happen in a timely manner from here on in if we are to build the interconnector to meet the needs of Northern Ireland.”
The current flow restriction in the Single Electricity Market (SEM) between North and South is estimated to be costing consumers an additional £20 million a year.
Welcoming the planning approval for the south, McCormick adds: “We very much welcome the positive outcome from An Bord Pleanála. It represents significant progress for the project.”