Key decisions on proposals for a EUR 300 million, all-island gas storage facility are due to be made in the coming weeks.
The facility proposed for a seven-cavern site at Islandmagee, near Larne, Co Antrim is backed by Mutual Energy, which owns and operates the Moyle electricity interconnector and the Scotland to Northern Ireland gas pipeline.
The storage facility, which would have the capacity for 500 million cubic metres of gas, is also backed by BP Gas Marketing which has an option on just over 50 per cent of the business. BP is funding development costs.
A decision on planning permission for the project is expected from the Northern planning authorities next month. Next month will also see developments on a work map setting out regulations regarding a move to an all-island gas market.
Discussions on the all-island gas market have been officially under way since 2007 when a joint North/South report concluded that Ireland was uniquely vulnerable to the consequences of any disruption to gas supplies.
Ireland is dependent on gas for about 65 per cent of electricity generation, with 90 per cent of the island s gas imported via a single pipeline from Scotland.
The Islandmagee facility, when complete, will store enough gas to satisfy the Republic s demand for about 30 days.
According to Paddy Larkin, chief executive of Mutual Energy the project is proposed as a regional solution to regional concerns .
Mr Larkin said geological studies had identified Islandmagee as the only place on the island where Permian-age salt suitable for a deep underground gas storage facility existed.
The proposal would see the drilling of seven caverns, each 80m in diameter and 160m high, about 1,750m below Larne Lough next to the existing Ballylumford power station.
The caverns would have the capacity to take in 12 million cubic metres of gas per day and a withdrawal facility, when full, of 22 million cubic metres per day.
The estimated timescale for the project is seven years from planning permission, with the first cavern becoming operational after five years.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy said issues in relation to the work map were with the Commission for Energy Regulation and an announcement on procedures was expected.
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