North-south interconnector ruling 'could be down to civil servants'

The PAC has forwarded its recommendations on the proposed north south interconnector to the Department for Infrastructure
Gary McDonald Business Editor

KEEPING the lights on in homes and businesses the north next winter could now be down to civil servants in the Department for Infrastructure.

For in the absence of a functioning Executive, they've been tasked to rule on approving a second north-south interconnector to ensure future security of energy supply.

It come after the Planning Appeals Commission forwarded its recommendation on the interconnector to the Department following a public inquiry earlier this year.

In line with common practice, the PAC has not disclosed the content of its report issued to the Department.

But given that the interconnector remains an urgent requirement to ensure the north has enough electricity to meet demand in the coming years, it is widely believed it will be recommended for approval.

The System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI), members of the Business Alliance (made up of the NI Chamber of Commerce, IoD, CBI, Retail NI and Federation of Small Businesses) and politicians have all heralded the move as a "positive development" which advances the delivery of a key piece of infrastructure.

The frenzy of opinion followed a three-sentence statement released by the PAC which read: "The public inquiry into the proposed Tyrone/Cavan electricity interconnector concluded on February 27. The Commissioners have forwarded their report and recommendation to the Department for Infrastructure. Release of the report is a matter for the Department."

SONI's general manager Robin McCormick said: “This is a positive step towards a decision on the planning application for the north-south interconnector.

"It remains an urgent requirement to ensure we have enough electricity to meet demand in the coming years, and is also needed to reduce electricity costs to domestic and commercial consumers throughout the island.

“The PAC has been very professional in its approach to the proposal, and we now look forward to the Department for Infrastructure announcing a decision as soon as possible.”

That is seen as putting pressure on civil servants within that department, given that it could be many months before a minister is in place (before the current political crisis, Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard was at the helm).

All the groups within the Business Alliance have responded positively to the PAC move.

Retail NI's Glyn Robert insisted: “A decision should not be kicked into the long grass in the absence of devolution and, given the wide consensus across the business community, the Department’s permanent secretary should make the call.”

Angela McGowan at the CBI said sectors ranging from manufacturing and hospitality, through to education and health, will all feel the benefits of this critical piece of infrastructure while Christopher Morrow at the NI Chamber insisted: “We will continue to voice our support until a decision is made – hopefully no later than the end of this year.”

The FSB's Wilfred Mitchell said: “The interconnector will create downward pressure on energy costs and relieve the cost burden on small businesses, and we encourage civil servants to move ahead with the project as soon as possible to provide certainty for consumers."

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