Brexit will spur Irish efforts to connect to EU energy market

Irish Minister for Climate Action, Energy and the Environment Denis Naughten. [EU2016 SK/Flickr]

Brexit will spur Irish efforts to diversify its energy supplies, which are dominated by UK imports, and connect its energy market to continental Europe, Ireland’s energy minister said yesterday (27 February).

“All of our electricity and gas interconnections are with Britain […] it would be irresponsible of us not to explore all other options,” Denis Naughten told reporters after a meeting of EU  energy ministers in Brussels on Monday.

“It is important that we have direct connections into the European Union and we are determined to make sure that happens,” he added, pointing to the  long-planned “Celtic interconnector” with France, which could now be moved forward because of Brexit.

Last week, the EU’s Connecting Europe Facility announced a €4 million investment in the undersea cable link, a joint project developed by EirGrid and its French counterpart Réseau de Transport d’Électricité (RTE).

After Brexit, Britain would no longer be an EU member and Ireland would have no interconnections with the the bloc.

The majority of Ireland’s energy imports (88%) come from the UK. Almost all (97%) of Ireland’s gas imports came from Britain in 2015. The opening of a gas field in Ireland is expected to decrease that percentage to about 80% by the middle of the next decade. Nearly half (40%) of Irish electricity comes from gas.

Brexit had resurrected discussions over new Irish infrastructure to take imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from elsewhere in the world.

“Because of Brexit this [LNG] is very much back on the agenda and we are exploring options on that as well,” the minister said.

He conceded that infrastructure investment would likely come with EU financing. The bloc’s budget rules made turning to EU financing programs necessary, he added.

A number of EU energy ministers have spoken to the UK about the impact of Brexit, Naughten said. He added that countries such as Belgium, Denmark, non-EU member Norway, France and the Netherlands had energy plans involving Britain.

“Naturally enough there is going to be anxiousness but I think there is determination there that you would continue to be able to trade freely across, let’s say, the north seas.”

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Energy Union

Improving interconnectivity between member states is one of the goals of the bloc’s Energy Union strategy, which is aimed at reducing energy imports and fighting climate change.

Interconnected countries would find it easier to buy and sell energy from each other and facilitate the moving of supplies around the EU to make up shortages. Despite this, EU interconnectivity remains sluggish.

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The European Union yesterday (4 March) took a step to reduce its energy dependence, especially on Russia, seeking instead to improve connections between renewable energy giants Spain and Portugal, and the rest of Europe. 

Ireland has a direct electricity interconnection with Britain, and a single electricity market with Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. A second interconnector between the electricity grids of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is in the planning stage.

Climate think tank E3G has said that Brexit has already had a chilling effect on investment in  interconnectors between Britain and continental Europe.

The UK’s impeding divorce from the EU has raised fears over the possible reintroduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.  Possible trade tariffs and fees could further harm cross-border trade.

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But Naughten said uncertainty would not affect the investment in the electricity interconnector between North and the Republic of Ireland, which will be funded by consumers or the linkage between Ireland and France.

He added that UK Prime Minister Theresa May had said she wanted the island of Ireland to remain a single electricity market after Brexit.

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