EirGrid as a commercial state company is accountable to the independent energy regulator, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, under the price review process for all expenditure, including advertising, that it incurs in the discharge of its responsiblities. 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.
The 2012 Government Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and Other Energy Infrastructure states: ‘The Government does not seek to direct EirGrid and ESB Networks or other energy infrastructure developers to particular sites or routes or technologies’.
The option of undergrounding the North-South Interconnector has been comprehensively assessed on several occasions. Most recently, and fully in line with the resolution of Dáil Éireann of 16 February 2017, my Department commissioned an independent report incorporating international industry expertise to examine the technical feasibility and cost of undergrounding the north-south interconnector. The report from the International Expert Commission was published in October 2018 and it found that an overhead line remains the most appropriate option for this piece of critical electricity infrastructure. I do not intend ordering a further such review.
The Government takes the commitment to community engagement seriously. EirGrid and ESB Networks 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.