Below is the transcript of Questions I tabled to the Transport Minister in Dáil Éireann
- Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on the need to provide the North-South interconnector as proposed by EirGrid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53166/18]
- Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on the 2018 electricity generation report published by EirGrid and a company (details supplied) on the proposed North-South interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53165/18]
I wish the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State at the Departments of Rural and Community Development and Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Canney well in their new roles.
As the Minister is aware, we have been told relentlessly since 2006 that the lights would go out in Northern Ireland unless the North-South interconnector was built as a matter of urgency. The 2018 electricity generation report recently published by EirGrid and the System Operator for Northern Ireland, SONI, shows a remarkable turnaround from a situation with a significant power deficit to that of a significant power surplus in Northern Ireland for the next ten years, even accounting for a very high level of forecasted demand, which is a demand that is unlikely ever to be reached. It is time that the Minister and the Department questioned the necessity for this North-South interconnector project going any further in the planning stage.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 58 together.
I am surprised that the Deputy is suggesting that we would isolate our grid in that way. One of the constraints on introducing renewables into our grid is the lack of interconnection. The single electricity market for the island of Ireland has brought many economic and social benefits, both North and South. It depends on the degree of interconnection. Currently, just 300 MW of electricity supply across the existing North-South interconnector is permitted to ensure that electricity is securely provided to customers. The new North-South interconnector will facilitate substantial increases in capacity transfers, thereby facilitating a more effective single electricity market.
Interconnection helps to ensure that only the most efficient and low-carbon generation is brought into the grid. The interconnector also substantially increases the capacity to connect up to an estimated 900 MW of renewables to our grid. Currently, 30% of our electricity comes from renewables, but as part of our strategy to meet our climate commitments, we need to almost double that proportion as Deputy Canney outlined.
The North-South interconnector has been subject to economic analysis and the benefit-to-cost ratio is very positive. The interconnector is expected to bring savings in the single electricity market of €20 million per annum from its inception, rising to between €40 million and €60 million per annum by 2030. Much of these savings result from reductions in network constraints that will accrue from its delivery.
While the project has received planning consent in Ireland and Northern Ireland, these decisions are subject to ongoing legal challenges in both jurisdictions. The development of the interconnector, including associated procurement activities, are operational matters for EirGrid and ESB Networks.
The generation capacity statement 2018 covers both Northern Ireland and Ireland, and is produced jointly between SONI and EirGrid. This is in line with their regulatory requirements to publish forecast information about the power system, including an assessment of the balance between supply and demand. The generation capacity statement is updated annually to ensure an adequate capacity is available in the market on an all-island basis and to plan accordingly.
I am advised that the increase in generation capacity as shown in the generation capacity statement published by the transmission system operator does not impact on the need for the interconnector. It is also important to note that the increase in Northern Ireland generation capacity shown is likely to be temporary in nature. The main increase is from the assumed continued availability of the coal-fired Kilroot generating units and two of the older and less efficient Ballylumford units. The long-term continued operation of these generators is not sustainable in the context of decarbonisation of the industry. In fact, since the generation capacity statement was published, the Utility Regulator for Northern Ireland granted derogation requests on 9 November to AES for the two Ballylumford units, totalling 250 MW, from the requirement to give three years’ notice of closure.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I never suggested that we should not have an all-Ireland electricity market – far from it – and I have always advocated that we develop an all-Ireland economy. I am saying that we have been fed a diet of suggestions that the lights will go out in Northern Ireland in 2019 if the North-South interconnector is not built. The most recent report shows that there will be a surplus of electricity, even under present structures, as opposed to the deficit that we were told would result for a long time. I have many quotes from EirGrid and SONI, their counterparts and other affiliated bodies, stating that the lights would go out if the North-South interconnector was not built.
I am sure that the Minister is fully aware of the grave concern in communities in Monaghan, Cavan and his home county of Meath about the actions of EirGrid and the bullying manner in which this project has been proposed all along. We had the farce of an oral hearing with An Bord Pleanála where all of us in this House, regardless of political parties, and local public representatives made detailed oral presentations at those hearings but we might as well have been talking to ourselves at home because the report did not even have the courtesy to refer to the concerns outlined by Ministers, Senators, Deputies and councillors from Cavan, Monaghan and Meath.
I am sure that the Minister is fully aware that the communities in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan do not accept the proposal as it stands to have these transmission cables overground should that project ever proceed.
I am conscious that we were just talking about the challenges of climate change and how we will respond to it. One of the responses is undoubtedly to have better interconnection in our grid. There is not only this North-South interconnector which would allow 900 MW of renewable energy to come onto our grid, but also the project for an interconnector between Ireland and France. We need interconnection if we are to have an electricity market that is capable of decarbonisation. It is an absolute challenge for us as a nation to deal with this.
I accept that any change is challenging. I have not been involved in the planning process but I know from others that people had strong feelings. The planning process has been set up to be independent of the political system. That was done for very good reason and I am around long enough to know why it was done. We have to respect the independence of our planning system.
As I explained in the reply, the reason there is capacity to meet demand at the moment and the lights will not be going out is the extended life of coal-burning stations, two of which are now slotted for closure. Of course there will be contingencies to keep the lights on, but in terms of planning for the grid for the long term, interconnection is essential.
I thank the Minister. I would not question the need for an independent planning system. We are all fully aware of the need for that and the way it works. When members of Government, Members of the Oireachtas and public representatives from local authorities go to the bother of making detailed presentations at oral hearings, it would be expected that the inspector’s report would at least refer to them or take some cognisance of the views of elected people. Those bodies may be removed from the political system but they cannot just disregard public representatives either.
There is an issue that may not be in the Minister’s brief that I want to bring to his attention. The Minister referred to An Bord Pleanála giving approval in December 2016 and that approval carried nine conditions. The local communities in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan have stated all along that EirGrid could not proceed without breaching those conditions laid down by an Bord Pleanála, but EirGrid has passed the ball onto ESB Networks to meet all local authorities to force them to bend and sign off on the conditions. All local authorities and planning executives met ESB Networks on 6 September and our position and the position of local community groups which have been very active on this issue over a number of years is that ESB Networks has no right to meet local authorities at this stage on this project. It is an EirGrid project and not an ESB Networks project. I would like it if the Minister would have that matter investigated in his Department.
If there is to be an independent planning process, the representations of Ministers or Deputies cannot be treated in a better fashion than anyone else. The point of having an independent process is that it is not open to influence by political—–
But we booked an oral public hearing.
That is the point of it being independent. It is that Ministers will not be pressurising it or that the planning authority will not provide special access for one group of people as opposed to the other, because that undermines the independence of the process. We know what the planning process is like. It does not always produce the outcome that is wanted and I acknowledge that, but it is fair and public representatives are not treated better than individuals who are representing themselves, and that is as it should be. The quality of the planning is the argument that they have to deal with.
There were qualitative arguments from public representatives as well.
I am not aware of the details of the planning conditions and I will get back to the Deputy on that, but generally speaking, in planning conditions it is not unusual that they would require something to be done to the satisfaction of a local authority.
In virtually every planning permission granted, the roads must be completed to the standard of the local authority or whatever. I will check the provision to which the Deputy refers.
The other point we need to bear in mind is that two independent reports showed that the underground proposal, which is what many people are advocating, would be three times as expensive. They showed also that our system of compensation is fair and reasonable and better than that in many other countries. We are trying to be fair to people but the planning system is independent of Government.
Eirgrid has not tried to be fair to local communities.