Ireland cross border interconnectors opened

4 October 2004 - An all-Ireland electricity network has taken a major step forward with the official opening of three cross-border interconnectors linking systems North and South.

Northern Ireland Electricity and its southern counterpart ESB have made an investment of €19.6mn($24.3m), including €6.5m of European Regional Development Fund support, in the interconnectors which will increase security of power for people throughout Ireland and facilitate greater competition in the electricity industry.

The two electricity systems are linked by interconnectors at three points: between Tandragee and Louth, Letterkenny and Strabane and Enniskillen and Corraclassy.

The main connection at Louth has the capacity to provide enough electricity to power several major towns.

An interconnector between Tandragee and Louth was first commissioned in 1970 but blown up by the IRA five years later. It remained out of action until the mid 1990s and in the past year has undergone a major capacity upgrade.

The interconnectors enable trade in electricity between Northern Ireland and the Republic and, through the Moyle Interconnector linking Northern Ireland to Scotland, with regions throughout Britain.

Patrick Haren, chief executive of NIE's parent company Viridian, said at a ceremony in Louth that over recent years his company had spent €400m preparing for a competitive Irish market by investing in the interconnectors, the link to Scotland and a power station at Huntstown near Dublin.

"Further competition on an all-Ireland basis will be facilitated by interconnection and will bring benefit to customers North and South," he said.

ESB chairman Tadhg O'Donaghue said: "The wider interconnector strategy is laying the foundation for a modern, competitive all- Ireland electricity market offering enhanced competition and security of supply.

Separately, the £150m ($269.6m) Moyle Interconnector, which was officially opened today by Prince Andrew, ends the isolation of the Northern Ireland grid from the British electricity network.

The undersea link from Scotland has the capacity of a medium- sized power station, and it came into operation at the start of this year.

NIE said the inauguration of the interconnector was a watershed moment for the local economy.

Dr Patrick Haren, chief executive of NIE's parent company, Viridian Group, said the EU-backed project had been completed within budget and on time.

He said: "This interconnector links Northern Ireland to the electricity grid in Britain and, for the first time, brings real competition to the electricity generation market in Northern Ireland.

"Already local industry is reaping the benefits: Northern Ireland's largest businesses now have the opportunity to seek competitive deals from a range of supply companies for electricity imported across the interconnector."

It is understood that some local firms have achieved savings of around 10% on their annual electricity bill by shopping around for the best price.

The 500 MW seabed cable runs for 35 miles from Auchencrosh in Ayrshire to Ballycronan More in Islandmagee.

Construction began in May last year and the link became operational in December.

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