Electricity Grid to be upgraded for Belfast zero carbon future

SONI, the electricity transmission system operator for Northern Ireland, has today launched its  ‘Energising Belfast’ project, at an event hosted by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, at Allstate NI’s offices in Belfast city centre.

If approved, the £39.5million ‘Energising Belfast’ project will modernise parts of the transmission grid in Greater Belfast to prepare it for the future of electric vehicles and home heating using electricity. The project will deliver a new high-capacity underground cable through Belfast City Centre, as well as a new transformer at Castlereagh Main substation, increasing the reliability of the electricity system in Greater Belfast. Other additional improvements, such as building new substations at or next to existing sites in the city, are also being explored.

Speaking at the launch Mike Brennan, Permanent Secretary of the Department for the Economy said: “Energising Belfast is significant in its potential to enable the economy in Belfast and wider Northern Ireland to grow with cleaner electricity and help to deliver the Northern Ireland Energy Strategy and the 10X Economic Strategy.

“It is helping in providing opportunity to deliver affordable clean electricity and to promote Northern Ireland as an attractive location for renewables investment.  Our energy revolution will be based on Northern Ireland’s innovation, engineering and IT expertise.  Projects such as Energising Belfast allow our skills to flourish, build markets where we export those skills and innovations to the world and help enable a step change in the capacity in our electricity network.”

Welcoming the investment, Alan Campbell, Managing Director of SONI said:

“A thriving city centre is vital to the prosperity of Belfast City and the region. This project will prepare the transmission system, ensuring Belfast is equipped to avail of the economic growth opportunities, as Northern Ireland transitions to net zero.

“While there is currently no finalised route selected for all parts of the project, it will include a new high-capacity underground electricity cable, which will help to underpin future investment, as it strengthens security and consistency of supply for businesses. The project will also enable older sections of the transmission line to be replaced, paving the way for the future removal of some pylons in Greater Belfast.”

“This project will future-proof the transmission system in Greater Belfast to ensure businesses have the secure electricity supply they need to expand in the near-term and into the future, supporting the economic and societal vision of the Belfast Region City Deal.

“Along with supporting the decarbonisation of heating and transport, it will also prepare the grid to facilitate greater levels of clean energy, helping Northern Ireland to deliver its climate ambition of at least 80% renewable electricity generation by 2030.”

Tanya Hedley, Director of Networks at the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator said:

“As a regulator, we want to support investment in decarbonisation at lowest cost to consumers.  Northern Ireland is on a journey to a low carbon future and the Energising Belfast project is key to supporting the transition to net zero for households and businesses in Greater Belfast.  As well as delivering investment to support decarbonisation, the Energising Belfast project will facilitate the upgrading and modernisation of the electricity network, which will also bolster security of supply”.

NIE Networks owns and manages the transmission and distribution network in Northern Ireland.  Randal Gilbert, Network Assets Director, welcomed the project explaining the role they will have in the construction.

“While SONI will lead on the functional design and consenting of the project, NIE Networks will be responsible for the technical design, construction and delivery of this new high-capacity transmission network across the city.  Assuming SONI obtain all the necessary consents within the planned timeframe, we anticipate beginning construction in 2024 however the first phases of this project will entail enabling works at existing substations before the city centre works commence.  The project is estimated to last for 3 to 4 years.”

Randal continued: “The energy system in Northern Ireland is at a transformational juncture.  Our vision is to provide an electricity network that is safe and reliable, capable of facilitating a net zero carbon future and one that meets the longer term needs of our society.  We’re excited about the opportunities that lie ahead of us and the transformation of our energy sector over the coming years.”