Northern Ireland

North-South electricity interconnector: Public inquiry resumes in Northern Ireland

Electricity power lines
Image caption The electricity interconnector linking power grids in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is due to be built above ground, against the wishes of campaigners

The initial phase of a public inquiry into the Northern Ireland part of a major £204m cross-border energy project has been taking place in Armagh.

The north-south interconnector would connect the two power grids by 138km of overhead lines between Moy in County Tyrone and County Meath.

The inquiry heard legal arguments over whether the project needed a new planning application.

It came after changes were made to the height and positioning of some pylons.

The Department for Infrastructure must now decide whether to hold further public hearings later this year.

The inquiry - run by the Planning Appeals Commission - recommenced after a four-year delay.

It first opened in 2012 but was adjourned when it emerged the planning application and environmental statement had not been properly advertised.

Campaigners want the cables to be put underground for environmental and health reasons.

Image caption The route of the proposed north-south electricity interconnector

However, backers of the planning application have said this option would take too long and be "five times more expensive".

In the Republic of Ireland, the state-owned commercial energy company, EirGrid, has submitted plans for the southern half of the project.

In Northern Ireland, the lead is being taken by System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI).

Its chief executive Robin McCormack said: "The project is an urgent necessity to ensure Northern Ireland has enough electricity to meet demand in the coming years.

Image copyright SONI
Image caption SONI has released an image of how it says the pylons would look

"We welcome the recommencement of the public inquiry as we continue to work towards a planning decision for the project," he said.

A final decision on the Northern Ireland planning application will rest with the Minister for Infrastructure, Chris Hazzard.

Twelve weeks of hearings have already taken place in the Republic of Ireland, with a decision on its part of the project due from An Bord Pleanála (the Planning Board) later this year.

SONI has released an image of how the pylons would look.

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