Scots and Irish could have £5.6bn Celtic ‘super grid’ within 10 years

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SCOTLAND and Ireland’s power grids could be linked by a vast network of undersea cables stretching from the Western Isles to the north tip of Ulster, as part of plans to boost the reach of new wind, wave and tidal farms, government ministers said yesterday.

A study published at a conference attended by Scottish, Irish and Northern Irish ministers in Glasgow has found that a transmission network could be set up within the decade, allowing power to pass to and from three countries. The move is part of wider EU-backed plans to link up the entire continent via a “supergrid”, allowing electricity to be exported at times of excess, or imported if and when the country requires back-up.

In September, proposals for a link from Norway to Scotland were submitted in what would be the first connection to the European mainland.

The feasibility study Irish-Scottish Links on Energy Study (ISLES) published yesterday concluded that as much as 2.8 gigawatts (GW) of electricity could be transmitted via links between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The two land masses would be linked by a cable from Hunterston to Coleraine, Co Londonderry, with offshoots running up to the Argyll and Western Isles coast, where offshore wind farms are planned.

A second link from Wales to Ireland would allow the two countries to share up to 3.4 GW of electricity.

However, the study concluded it would cost £5.6 billion to lay out the connection, allowing a web of on- and off-shore power stations.

With consumers certain to have to bear the cost of any upfront investment, there were warnings yesterday that households might have to bear “undue costs” from electricity generated.

The idea of an inter-linked continent has been championed by EU chiefs as a way of spreading the risk of supply over a wider area. Renewable energy backers in Scotland also believe it will open up markets for the energy produced in Scotland.

SNP ministers have pledged to ensure that 100 per cent of Scotland’s energy needs are met by renewable sources by 2020. With other sources of energy also producing electricity, this would, if achieved, allow excess electricity to be sold to other countries, such as Ireland.

Hosting the conference of Scottish and Irish ministers in Glasgow yesterday, finance secretary John Swinney said the feasibility’s study’s support for a new undersea link provided “further proof” of the “enormous economic opportunities renewable energy provides”.

He added: “The ISLES study shows that, by working together on a shared renewables grid, we could boost jobs, revenue and economic growth – as well as helping secure future renewable energy supplies. These islands have some of the most abundant and powerful offshore renewable energy sources in Europe.”

Irish ministers hoped the plan would ensure not just that the British Isles was connected, but the rest of Europe as well.

However, Northern Ireland energy minister Arlene Foster said that the plans would “not happen quickly or easily” given the planning complications.

“Government needs to work with the energy sector to make the investment environment more attractive but without imposing undue costs on the customer.”