Public consultation on €950m interconnector between Ireland and France
The availability of 700MW of power at the flick of a switch will provide a very valuable back-up in the event of a power outage in Ireland
The laying of interconnector cable. There are already two interconnectors to the island of Ireland. One runs from north Antrim to the coast of Scotland and the other from the east coast of Ireland to north Wales
The public consultation process has just begun for a €950 million project to develop a new electricity interconnector linking Ireland to France. The 575km interconnector will run from east Cork to northeast Brittany, and will be capable of carrying 700 megawatts (MW) of electricity, the equivalent of supplying power to 450,000 homes.
“There are two interconnectors to the island of Ireland already,” says Michael Mahon, director of grid development and interconnection with Eirgrid. “The Moyle Interconnector running from north Antrim to the coast of Scotland, and the East-West Connector from the east coast of Ireland to north Wales. This project will provide Ireland’s only direct energy connection to an EU member state once the United Kingdom leaves the EU.”
Connectivity to mainland Europe has been on the agenda for quite some time, according to Mahon. “There is a European requirement for interconnections between member states to support security of supply and sustainability. Ireland falls short of that requirements as an island nation hanging off the edge of mainland Europe, and we originally looked at the idea of an interconnector to France as far back as 2008.”
This led to EirGrid publishing the Interconnector Economic Feasibility Report in 2009. The report identified an interconnector with France as a viable opportunity.
“We formed a relationship with our counterpart in France, Réseau de Transport d’Electricité, to investigate the feasibility of an electrical link between the two countries and have been working with them since then on it,” says Mahon.
Joint studies into the feasibility of the interconnector have been carried out by the two companies since 2011. “These studies have indicated that an interconnector between the two countries would be beneficial for electricity customers in Ireland, France and the EU. Since then a cable route has been identified for the project, which has been approved by the European Commission for €530 million in grant funding.”
The security of supply benefits are clear. The availability of 700MW of power, more or less at the flick of a switch, would provide very valuable back-up in the event of a power outage in Ireland. However, the sustainability benefits are of equal if not more importance.
“If you look at Eirgrid’s strategy, which is closely aligned with the Government’s Climate Action Plan, we have set a target of having 70 per cent of the power on the system coming from renewable sources by 2030,” says Mahon.
“As an island nation we are in a great position to develop wind energy, both onshore and offshore. But wind is intermittent. It can be there one day and not there the next. You need an alternative source of power if the wind is not there. We can’t be in a position where we are unable to meet electricity demand.”
He cites a recent example to highlight his point.
“If you look back to November 4th, wind sources supplied 2,800MW to the system. Two days later that had dropped to 60MW. The interconnector will allow us to import electricity when we don’t have enough renewable generation to meet demand.”
It will also support the renewables industry.
“We are looking for an additional 10,000MW of renewable power generation capacity between now and 2030. Developers of those renewables projects need to have confidence that the demand will be there for the electricity they generate and that they will get a return on their investment.
“The interconnector will allow us to export electricity to France when there is an excess of renewables on the system here. The project may originally have been designed around security of supply but it will also be of major importance in facilitating Ireland’s transition to a low-carbon energy future.”
From a consumer perspective it will also help drive down electricity prices to bring them more in line with those paid by European consumers.
A side benefit will be a new fibre-optic connection to Europe. “The cable will carry a new fibre-optic connection to mainland Europe,” says Mahon. “This will strengthen Ireland’s connectivity to the internet backbone and will make the country an even more attractive location for FDI.”
He adds: “We have just started the consultation process. This is not the first time we’ve done that. We previously identified a few potential routes and locations and gave out that information to people for their consideration. We listened to people’s view and concerns, and have refined our thinking as a result.
“We now have a preferred location and landing point which is the emerging best performing option. We will engage with people during the 12-week consultation process, and will hold a number of open days in the east Cork area to allow people drop in to ask any questions they might have.”
Once the route and landing points are finalised, detailed design and planning will commence. It is hoped to go to market with the project in 2021, with construction commencing in 2023 for completion in 2026.