Written Answers. - Electricity Generation.

Liz McManus

Question:

100 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his discussions with the authorities in Northern Ireland regarding increasing capacity on the cross-Border interconnector and possibly building a new interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10835/03]

Due to the on going political difficulties in Northern Ireland, I have not been in a position to engage with the relevant authorities in Belfast to the extent that I would like. I am optimistic, however, that situation will be quickly overcome once the current political impasse is resolved.

The electricity systems between North and South are linked by interconnectors at three points: between Tandragee and Louth, Strabane and Letterkenny and Enniskillen and Corraclassy. Following the upgrading that took place during 2001, the main north-south interconnector, between Tandragee and Louth, now has a capacity to trade 2 x 600 megawatts of power, enough electricity to power several major towns – previously it had half that capacity. The other two interconnectors were commissioned in 1994 as standby links, primarily to allow the two grid companies to provide mutual assistance in an emergency. Since 2001, they have also been upgraded to full system interconnectors with a capacity of 120 megawatts each.

The upgrading of these interconnectors follows a decision taken jointly between my predecessor and Sir Reg Empey, the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, in 1999. The upgrading is also in line with one of the main recommendations of the 2001 study by IPA Consultants into options for the development of an all-island energy market.
Regrettably, in recent times the ability to transfer electricity in the south-north direction has been seriously curtailed due to congestion on the transmission line between the Dublin region and Louth rather than the interconnector itself. The congestion problem has increased with the addition of the new generators in the Dublin area. In an attempt to resolve this situation, the Commission for Energy Regulation has agreed a set of principles with the regulator in Northern Ireland, OFREG, and with the two system operators in the South and the North, which allowed superpositioning to be implemented from the 1 April 2003.
Super-positioning allows for parties to trade between systems on a contractual basis without the physical transfer of electricity across the interconnector being necessary. The introduction of this measure, which was welcomed by industry players, has gone a long way towards alleviating the problems caused by the lack of export capacity on the south to north direction of the interconnector. It will also ensure that potential cross-Border trades beneficial to both jurisdictions are not hindered. The question of building a new north-south electricity interconnector does not arise at this time.