I propose to take Questions Nos. 174 and 192 to 194, inclusive, together.
The North-South Interconnector is critical to improving the efficient operation of the all-island single electricity market and increasing security of electricity supply in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It will also help Ireland to move towards 70% renewable electricity, a commitment made in the Programme for Government. A resilient and well-connected energy infrastructure is vital for Ireland’s economic well-being and the ability to respond to the future needs of energy consumers.
I welcomed the decision in September by Minister Mallon to grant full planning consent for the project. The project was also approved by An Bord Pleanala in Ireland in 2016.
The option of undergrounding the line has been assessed on several occasions over the years. Most recently, my Department published an independent study in October 2018 on undergrounding the interconnector which found that an overhead line remained the most appropriate option for the proposed interconnector. This study was the latest in a series of studies that reached the same conclusion. The estimated cost of undergrounding the line was €680 million versus an estimated cost of €230 million for the overhead option. It is important to point out these estimates do not include provision for additional associated construction costs for terminals and substation connectivity. The estimates also do not include costs of landowner compensation.
EirGrid and ESB Networks, as our electricity system operators, always seek to work in close collaboration with landowners and stakeholders in the delivery of electricity infrastructure. Both companies are engaging with those living closest to the route of the interconnector. In that regard I note that EirGrid has already set in place a variety of engagements locally, including the appointment of community liaison officers and a mobile information unit active in the area. I expect such engagements to intensify in the coming weeks and months, subject of course to national public health guidelines on Covid-19.
In regard to a suggested meeting between Monaghan County Council officials and departmental officials, it is important for me to point out that my Department does not have any role in the delivery of electricity infrastructure on the ground. This is consistent with the 2012 Government Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and Other Energy Infrastructure which states: ‘The Government does not seek to direct EirGrid and ESB Networks or other energy infrastructure developers to particular sites or routes or technologies’.
I believe that this important new cross-Border infrastructure will significantly facilitate the integration of renewable energy into the power system, will bring economic benefits to the region and can address our climate objectives on the island of Ireland.