A detailed study into how an offshore electricity grid between Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland could be introduced has now been commissioned after being awarded European funding.
The second part of the flagship Irish-Scottish Links on Energy Study (ISLES) has now been given £1 million to examine how an offshore grid could be established by breaking down the complex financial, legal and regulatory issues that can affect cross-border energy projects.
Ministers from the three administrations, attending the British Irish Council summit in Derry-Londonderry in Northern Ireland, welcomed the development and committed to work together to examine how such a project could be brought to fruition.
The ISLES announcement comes days after SSE confirmed it would respond to a joint Scottish and UK government study into the potential for renewable energy on Scotland’s islands by submitting a needs case to Ofgem for a £780 million subsea cable link to connect the Western Isles to the national grid.
Speaking before the BIC meeting today, First Minister Alex Salmond said the new ISLES European project funding, coupled with SSE’s progress on the Western Isles connectivity cable, offered “hugely encouraging progress” on the infrastructure necessary to allow the renewable energy industry in all three markets to reach its full potential.
The First Minister said:
“The waters around these islands have some of the most abundant offshore energy resources anywhere in the world, but in order to harness this vast potential it is vital that we have the infrastructure in place to transfer the energy that is generated to where it is needed.
“That is why the ISLES project is so important. This innovative, cross-border study is examining how we can establish an offshore electricity grid to make this transference of energy easier, supporting our flourishing renewables industry by powering the nation and allowing the surplus energy it generates to be exported to other markets.
“The first part of ISLES demonstrated that an offshore grid of this type was both technically feasible and economically viable. Today’s announcement, that ISLES has been awarded £1 million in European funding to identify and, where possible, break down the barriers to cross-border energy trading, is another extremely welcome development and a fantastic example of how forums such as the British Irish Council bring administrations together to tackle issues of mutual interest in a positive, collaborative fashion.
Northern Ireland Energy Minister Arlene Foster said:
“I very much welcome the opportunity to work together with the Governments in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland to conduct this study.
“This project has the potential to send important investment signals to private sector companies who are considering investing in offshore grids as it will allow them to position their projects favourably when bidding for funding from Europe.”
Speaking from Ireland, Irish Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte said:
“I support the establishment of the Energy Study ISLES II. There is huge potential for capturing wind, wave and tidal energy and this cross-jurisdictional offshore integrated network is economically viable and competitive compared with developer-led stand-alone connected projects. It can potentially deliver a range of wider economic, environmental and market related benefits to both Ireland and the UK”.
The Irish-Scottish Links on Energy Study (ISLES), is a joint initiative between Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland examining how an offshore interconnectivity grid could be established to help aid the transfer of energy between the three markets.
The first part of the study – published in November 2011 – showed there were no technical barriers to the development of an ISLES offshore interconnected network, concluding that there were no environmental constraints and sufficient onshore network capacity in the UK for ISLES to be in place by 2020.
Today’s announcement confirms that a second ISLES study has been awarded EU INTERREG funding of £913,041, towards a total project cost of £996,479, with the remaining £83,438 met by match funding from the administrations.
The ISLES project builds on the ‘all-islands’ approach for the development of renewable energy resources exemplified by the work of the British Irish Council, which brings the various administrations of these islands together for constructive dialogue on a range of issues.
The Special EU Programmes Body is a North/South Implementation Body sponsored by the Department of Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland and the Department of Finance in Ireland. It is responsible for managing two EU structural funds Programmes PEACE III and INTERREG IVA designed to enhance cross-border co-operation, promote reconciliation and create a more peaceful and prosperous society. The programmes operate within a clearly defined area including Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and in the case of INTERREG IVA, Western Scotland.