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The huge potential benefits of a new electricity grid under the Irish Sea connecting power sources on Scottish, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland electricity networks have been highlighted in an exhaustive study published today.

Posted on: November 25th, 2011

Development of an interconnected transmission network within the decade would help revitalise the renewables sector, create jobs in Northern Ireland and generate revenues by exporting electricity to Europe.

Part-funded with approximately £1.5million worth of assistance through the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Programme, the Irish-Scottish Links on Energy Study (ISLES) project is a two-year collaboration between the Scottish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government in the Republic of Ireland.

The ISLES report contains crucial data and hard evidence to help understand the financial, regulatory and technical challenges of building an offshore interconnected transmission network and subsea electricity grid to support generation of electricity from renewable sources in coastal waters off Western Scotland and in the North Channel/Irish Sea area.

The report was launched today at the National Economic Forum/ISLES Conference at Hampden Park, Glasgow.

Speaking at the conference, Energy Minister Arlene Foster said: “I see access to diversified sources of reliable and renewable energy as a core building block for sustainable economic growth.

“The ISLES concept study presents us with a realistic picture of an energy future where the regional wind, wave and tidal energy resources located far off our coasts are harnessed and used for our mutual good. This will not happen quickly or easily.

“Northern Ireland’s new Programme for Government and Economic Strategy recognise the need to be responsive to national and international market opportunities. The study points to the sizable potential for local companies to exploit the commercial opportunities that could be generated by the need for a marine renewable supply chain centred on our ports.

“The ISLES study presents significant challenges to government and potential investors. Across each of our countries there are barriers to regional integration of energy trading systems. Government needs to work with the energy sector to make the investment environment more attractive but without imposing undue costs on the end customer.”

Finance Secretary John Swinney has said the study is “further proof” of the economic potential of renewable energy.

He said: “This ground-breaking study highlights the opportunities and the challenges in realising our shared renewables potential. It underlines the commitment of our three governments to work together to harness the huge potential of renewable energy.

“It is further proof, if any were needed, of the enormous economic opportunities renewable energy provides. The low carbon economy could re-industrialise Scotland and the transmission network is an enormous part of that.

“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. Indeed, Scotland has around a quarter of the continent’s wind and tidal resource and as much as a tenth of its potential wave power. This project paves the way to allow us to harvest that potential, further develop our export capability and bring in revenues to Scotland.

“This project has EU-wide significance. It shows Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland are leading the debate on how to deliver our offshore energy networks and we will now take these findings to both Westminster and Brussels.

“Connecting our transmissions networks is a challenging endeavour, but the rewards will be huge. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.”

Pat Rabbitte, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Government of of Ireland, said: “With a sea area that is almost ten times the size of our landmass, Ireland has abundant ocean renewable energy resources, potentially a multiple of the energy requirements of our own system.”

“By co-operating with our neighbouring administrations, we can work together to create a viable market for these resources initially across our own islands but in time to continental Europe. The study shows that we have the potential to reduce infrastructure costs by working together in the long term to develop a planned network design.”

Pat Colgan, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), which manages the INTERREG IVA Programme, said: “Increased use of renewable energy is a core objective of the EU’s ‘20-20-20 targets’ which commits all 27 member states to source 20% of their energy needs from renewable sources by the year 2020. This study links into these targets as it has the potential to make a significant impact upon the future of the renewable energy sector.

“The study has also involved close cross-border collaboration amongst the three governments based in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Ireland, working together to achieve a common goal. This cross-border ‘partnership based’ approach reflects the key goals of the INTERREG IVA Programme which has been designed to encourage greater levels of co-operation between all three regions. I look forward to seeing how the findings of this study are received and the positive benefits it has the potential to create.”