Interconnectors move ahead in Ireland, France, Spain

Plans for a long-awaited interconnector between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have been approved, paving the way for greater sharing of clean electricity between the two nations.

The Irish side of the scheme has already been approved, and the latest decision from the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure means that, in theory, the project can now go ahead.

The GBP200 million (US$280 million) project, which crosses the border between Cavan and Tyrone, was first mooted in 2009 but faced fierce opposition from environmentalists because it involved the erection of 102 pylons.

Commenting on the planning decision, Robin McCormick, general manager of SONI, the transmission grid operator for Northern Ireland, said: “The North South Interconnector is undoubtedly the most important infrastructure scheme on the island today. It has received strong support from businesses and employers because of the positive impact it will have on the economy, and from consumer groups as it will help reduce the cost of electricity.”

Despite the approval, there remains considerable local opposition to the 138km link, on both sides of the border. Many landowners are unwilling to allow EirGrid to put pylons on their land, but calls to site the cable underground were rejected by the project developers as too expensive.

Irish energy minister Denis Naughten has commissioned a report on the feasibility and cost of creating a subterranean cable, but this has yet to be published.

Agreement on the Irish grid link comes as the European Commission approves 680 million euros (US$842 million) in funding for interconnectors across the EU, most notably 578 million euros (US$715 million) for the Biscay Gulf France-Spain interconnection, which will finally end the isolation of the Iberian Peninsula’s electricity network from the rest of Europe.

The grant is the largest individual award from the Commission’s Connecting Europe facility, a 5 billion euro (US$6.2 billion) fund to boost trans-European energy infrastructure for the period 2014-2020. The facility aims to enhance security of supply, contribute to market integration, and enhance competition, as well as reduce CO2 emissions.

The scheme includes a 280km offshore section, while the French portion of the cable will be fully underground. The link will nearly double the interconnection capacity between the two countries – from 2,800 MW to 5,000 MW – and will allow more renewable energy capacity to be integrated into the system.

Other grants were awarded to the SuedOst link in Germany, which will link demand-hungry southern Germany with the wind power generated in the north of the country, and to a power line to increase interconnection capacity between Romania and Bulgaria and help integrate wind farms on the Black Coast.

The Viking Link interconnector between Denmark and the UK was also awarded 2.8 million euros (US$3.5 million), to support a study into unexploded bombs along the cable’s route.

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