AROUND 9,000 premises in key market towns west of the Bann are already capable of switching to gas, the head of Mutual Energy has confirmed.
Paddy Larkin was speaking in Dungannon on Thursday at an event to mark the completion of the main construction phase of the £250 million ‘gas to the west’ project.
It will eventually offer 40,000 homes and business premises in Omagh, Dungannon, Cookstown, Coalisland, Enniskillen, Magherafelt, Derrylin, Artigarvan and Strabane the opportunity to switch to natural gas.
Yesterday it emerged that some 9,000 properties are already hooked up, if they choose to make the switch.
Some 600 customers have already switched, most of them in Strabane, which was the first town to be connected in early 2017 as part of the project.
While significant work within the towns will continue over the next ten years, Thursday marked the official completion of the gas main line to the gateway of each town included.
Approximately 500 jobs were created during the construction phase which included around 50 river crossings and major roads, including the M1 motorway.
The main line has linked Fivemiletown with Portadown, with three ‘off-shoots’ to Magheraflet, Omagh and Enniskillen/Derrylin. Strabane has linked separately from Derry.
The project is being delivered by Mutual Energy and SGN Natural Gas.
Paddy Larkin, chief executive of Mutual Energy, which owns and operates the new high-pressure pipeline, said: “This is a major milestone in the project, in that the major construction works to get the gas to the town gates is finished.
“We want people to know that gas is now at the town gates. There’s quite a lot of distribution networking already built in the towns.
“The project overall plans to bring gas to 40,000 customers, but there’s enough network in the ground already so that 9,000 potential customers have gas outside their door.
“Those 9,000 customers could have gas connected tomorrow.”
A number of major businesses have already made the switch to gas, including Moy Park, Dale Farm, Encirc and Linergy
“Those customers have been waiting for gas,” said Mr Larkin. “So as soon as it arrived, they have connected.
“After those very large customers, come the schools, the hospitals, the hotels, who are very keen to get connected next. Small businesses will also be keen to connect.”
Mr Larkin said he expects the inclusion of the ‘gas to the west’ in the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal, along with continued commitments to decarbonisation, to eventually result in additional funding to extend the gas infrastructure to smaller towns and villages in Tyrone, Fermanagh and Derry.
SGN natural gas director, Danny O’Malley, said there was “exceptional demand” for natural gas.
“By enabling businesses to drive efficiency savings, we can potentially help them to be more competitive in both local and global markets. Converting to natural gas will allow businesses to reduce their carbon emissions, significantly reducing their footprint on the environment.”
CBI’s vice-chair in Northern Ireland, Trevor Lockhart, who is group chief executive at Fane Valley, said the new infrastructure will help firm reduce emissions.
“Many CBI members, including some of Northern Ireland’s major manufacturers located in the western area, are demonstrating their confidence in the new infrastructure by converting to natural gas,” he said.
“Realising these economic and environmental benefits will underpin the growth ambitions of these companies and contribute to the prosperity of these regions.”
Economy Minister Diane Dodds said £31.6m in grant funding had been awarded to the project.
“I look forward to the continued roll-out of new gas distribution networks in each of the eight towns in the West, eventually providing some 40,000 business and domestic consumers with additional fuel choice and increasing the potential for businesses, the public sector and households to use a cleaner, more efficient fuel.”
You can check if your address can access natural gas by visiting sgnnaturalgas.co.uk.