MPs warn of ‘lights out’ scenario in Northern Ireland

Committee stresses importance of proposed cross-Border electricity interconnector

The committee’s report shows there are concerns that the UK government’s Brexit negotiating strategy could impact on the new integrated single electricity market. Photograph: David Sleator

The committee’s report shows there are concerns that the UK government’s Brexit negotiating strategy could impact on the new integrated single electricity market. Photograph: David Sleator

 

Northern Ireland faces a potential “lights out” scenario in four years’ time unless work on a proposed £200 million (€236 million) North-South electricity interconnector begins as soon as possible, a group of UK and Northern Ireland MPs are warning.

The 14 MPs are also appealing to the UK government to be conscious of the “unique energy arrangements” on the island of Ireland and to prioritise Northern Ireland’s interests as part of its forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

The MPs, who make up the influential House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, have published a new report following a year-long inquiry into the North’s energy sector which examined key issues from security of supply to Brexit and the high price of electricity. Some of the North’s largest employers currently pay some of the highest energy prices in Europe.

MPs believe one option for the government when it is discussing its future energy relationship with the European Union could be to negotiate a special status for the North’s energy market.

Concerns

The committee’s report shows there are concerns that the UK government’s Brexit negotiating strategy could impact on the new integrated single electricity market (I-SEM) which is due to come into effect next year in the North and South.

In their inquiry report, published on Monday, the committee said: “As an EU member state, the Republic of Ireland will continue to be subject to internal energy market legislation.

“There are concerns that, if the UK decides to withdraw from the internal energy market or does not seek for Northern Ireland a special status or derogation, then Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will no longer be able to jointly participate in a single electricity market, as they will be operating under a different set of energy regulations and state aid rules.”

Electricity market

The MPs have warned that if the North had to withdraw from I-SEM it would result in a smaller, less efficient electricity market which would likely result in “higher electricity costs and diminished security of supply”.

Over the course of the inquiry MPs had heard that the electricity industry in the North is “not confident it will be able to keep the lights on after 2021” because of a looming deficit in electricity supply.

Their report concludes that the first step to dealing with this issue is the new North-South interconnector , which it says has “near unanimous support” from across the local electricity sector and which will bring “greater security of supply, increased capacity for and will bring greater security of supply, increased capacity for renewable energy, and substantially lower costs for consumers”.