The island of Ireland as a whole is heavily reliant on electricity from Great Britain. The Republic and the North have constituted one single energy market ever since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Effectively, a discrete energy island – save for just two underwater power links, both of which go to Great Britain.
All this may yet be jeopardised by Brexit. Wary of this, state-owned Irish utility EirGrid is asking the European Commission to approve EU funding, definitely before October 31, for a planned €930 million underwater electricity link across the Celtic Sea to France.
The EU is already funding studies into the feasibility of the Celtic Interconnector project. It is eligible for construction funding as a ‘project of common interest’ for the EU by enhancing European energy connections. Such projects routinely receive EU funding, but the process normally takes several years.
The project is a joint venture between EirGrid and French utility RTE. They began planning for it well before the Brexit vote. But the vision of a disorderly Brexit has given the project new urgency.
There is no prospect of power flow stopping between the UK and Ireland, because energy trading isn’t something that depends on EU membership. But the EU does govern the rules and standards around such flows, and that is what has people concerned.
For instance, if the British and Irish energy markets significantly diverge on energy standards, it could get harder to trade energy between them. It may also be harder to address chronic shortages if the energy regulators are no longer cooperating as they do now via joint EU bodies. Complications could also arise if disputes between the two regulators emerge, because those disputes could no longer be resolved by the European Court of Justice. Yet another Brexit-related conundrum?