Energy where it should be in UK Government’s Brexit thinking

21 August 2017 - by Gráinne Walsh

A secure, sustainable and affordable energy system is essential for any modern economy, not least when it is competing for international investment in uncertain times.

Inclusion of the energy market, alongside movement of people and trading arrangements, early in negotiations should go some way to reducing uncertainty in this sector – the backbone of our economy.  

The proposal that current market structures should continue following the UK’s exit from the EU is also a step in the right direction.

Why is this important? How we generate and use electricity is changing and we are changing the market to reflect this. It’s expected that the new market, iSEM, will further enhance security of supply, increase competition, facilitate more efficient trading, support greater renewable generation, and provide a positive climate for further investment.  

Important objectives, well worth working for, but transition brings uncertainty and the sheer amount of change to be delivered by May 2018 is not for the faint hearted. Delays to the North-South interconnector and the fact that our power stations, like the rest of us, are getting older, do not lend themselves to relaxed times for the sector.

With respect to gas, where we in Northern Ireland import 100 per cent of our supplies from Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland imports 40 per cent. Securing trading arrangements and interconnection is vital.

Looking to the negotiations, the UK and Ireland’s main shared challenges are twofold: To avoid market distortions within the single electricity market following UK exit and to ensure that future legal and operational frameworks do not undermine the effective operation of an integrated market.

While energy cooperation did not feature in the Belfast Agreement, it shows that in matters of strategic importance, north-south and east-west cooperation can find a way.  

In a nod to the unknown elements of the Brexit talks, the UK’s call for certainty is, sensibly, followed by a call for an appropriate interim period for the timely implementation of any changes to current arrangements. 

Speaking at its launch in 2007, then-EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said “the single electricity market is important not only for the island of Ireland, but also for the European Union.” As we enter critical negotiations let’s hope that the 27 member states remember this.

An edited version of this article was also published in the News Letter.