There are several ongoing strategic infrastructure projects underway in relation to Ireland's electricity transmission network.
Eirgrid is currently rolling out its €3 Billion Grid 25 investment programme in Ireland's electricity transmission network. The purpose of the investment is enhance security of supply, enhance the efficiency of the all-island single electricity market (SEM), facilitate the necessary roll-out of renewable energy generation and support regional development. There are several strategic projects being undertaken by the system operators aimed at delivering societal and economic benefits to business and domestic consumers on the island.
North South Inter-connector (NSIC)
On the 17 January 2012, an International Expert Commission (IEC) published its review report in relation to the Meath-Tyrone (North-South) 400 kV Interconnection Project. The Commission was established in July, 2011 by Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Mr Pat Rabbitte TD, to review and report on a case for, and cost of, under-grounding (all or part of) Meath-Tyrone 400KV power lines, as committed to in the current Programme for Government. The Commission’s report broadly confirms the findings of earlier studies, namely that overhead AC lines represent by far the most cost effective option for this particular project. The best alternative option, using underground DC cables, would be at least three times more expensive to construct, and might well also result in a higher risk of electricity network breakdowns, threatening energy security.
A North-South Electricity Inter-connector (NSIC) is vital for the future electricity needs of the island of Ireland. The Meath-Tyrone project will contribute to removing costly constraints and bottlenecks in the island’s high voltage electricity transmission system and benefit domestic and commercial electricity customers, not only by enhancing energy security but also by enabling more efficient power generation, thereby keeping down costs. An unnecessary additional capital spend of €333 million associated with the alternative underground option is unwarranted, particularly in the current economic context. It would also set an unwelcome precedent that could hamper the continued roll-out of grid infrastructure to support further investment in renewable energy that is required over the coming decade to meet binding EU targets.
As an aside, the UK Minister for Energy and Climate Change published an independent report on the comparative costs of high voltage overhead lines and underground cables on the 31 January 2012. The UK report concurs with the finding of the report from the International Expert Commission, published by Minister Pat Rabbitte, that underground cables are significantly more expensive than overhead lines but estimates considerably higher costs ratios than those stated in the Irish Government report.
Minister Rabbitte sent a copy of the IEC review report to Andrew Doyle, T.D., the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture for consideration by the Committee. The IEC, Eirgrid and ESB Networks and opposition groups all made presentations to the Joint Committee on the 21 February 2012. The Government considered the report of the IEC and noted the comments of the Oireachtas Committee and on the 18 July 2012, Minister Rabbitte published a policy statement on the strategic importance of transmission on energy infrastructure. The statement affirmed the imperative need for development and renewal of our energy networks, in order to meet both economic and social policy goals. The Minister also recommended that the proposed NSIC return to the planning process in order to meet a delivery date of 2017. IBEC agrees with government conclusion that Eirgrid’s Grid 25 investment programme be delivered prudently and in the most cost-efficient and timely way. However for this to happen, the government must also play a lead role in building public support for critical energy infrastructure projects by developing clear national planning guidelines for projects of this type.
Grid Link and Grid West:
Eirgrid launched public consultations on its Grid Link and Grid West projects in April and May respectively. Again these projects are aimed at addressing physical constraints in the electricity transmission system, facilitating investment in renewable energy and regional development.