High-wire act of balancing national grid
Cantillon: Electricity must move across the island as energy-hungry data centres are attracted east
Eirgrid needs to tie its end points in Kildare and Meath together.That could mean building a new high-voltage overhead line, or putting the cables underground. Photograph: iStock
Eirgrid, the State company that operates the national electricity grid, has to balance the result of two long-standing policies. One is to encourage the development of renewable electricity, specifically wind generation. Most of the growth here has been in the west, and more particularly, the southwest.
The other is to attract multinational investment, including electricity-hungry data centres, the bulk of which end up in the east, Dublin’s hinterland. The outcome is that one side of the country generates a lot of electricity while the other consumes it.
Data centres are reinforcing that pattern; their arrival means that growth in energy consumption in Dublin will double over the next decade. Consequently electricity must move across the island.
Two lines, connecting Moneypoint in Co Clare with Dunstown in Co Kildare and Woodland Co Meath, do most of the heavy lifting here. To ensure that they cope with future demand, Eirgrid needs to tie its end points in Kildare and Meath together.
That could mean building a new high-voltage overhead line, boosting existing infrastructure or, very possibly, putting the cables underground. This is on the table, but involves a lot of risk as it would be going into more or less unknown territory.
This has not stopped opponents to other Eirgrid projects asking that it put high-voltage lines underground. The company is beginning public consultations on this project early, presumably to ensure that when it seeks planning permission, it will have arrived at the option likely to win the most support.
Eirgrid already has support from IDA Ireland for the plan, called capital project 966. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment knows of it.
As public consultations get under way, it will be interesting to see if the elected representatives, whose job-creation and energy policies Eirgrid is facilitating, row in behind the project.