Development of the Northern Ireland Gas Industry
Natural gas was first introduced to Northern Ireland via the Scotland to Northern Ireland gas pipeline in 1996. Initially, natural gas was made available to customers in Greater Belfast, the immediate surrounding area and Larne where the gas distribution network has been developed by Phoenix Natural Gas (PNG). By the end of December 2016, 195,437* customers had been connected to natural gas.
firmus energy (firmus) is engaged in work to develop the natural gas market outside Greater Belfast along the routes of the North-West gas transmission pipeline (completed November 2004) and the South-North gas transmission pipeline (completed October 2006). This work involves rolling out the gas distribution network in the 10 towns and cities of Londonderry, Limavady, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine, Newry, Craigavon, Antrim, Banbridge and Armagh. By the end of December 2016, firmus had connected 32,235* customers in the "10 towns" licence area, including taking natural gas to some additional urban areas, such as Tandragee, Warrenpoint and Bushmills.
On 11 February 2015, the Utility Regulator awarded exclusive gas conveyance licenses to NI Energy Holdings (West Transmission Ltd) and SGN Natural Gas to provide new high and low pressure gas infrastructure respectively to connect main towns, (including Dungannon, Cookstown, Magherafelt, Coalisland, Omagh, Strabane, and Enniskillen/Derrylin) in the West, to natural gas. The first phase of the project to connect Strabane to gas was completed in early 2017 and Lacpatrick Dairies has become the first company to receive energy from the “Gas to the West” project. Planning approval on works to connect the remaining towns was awarded in April 2017 and construction on the major pipelines is due to be completed by end-2018.
In December 2015, the Utility Regulator approved an extension to the Phoenix Natural Gas licence which will provide new gas infrastructure to 13 towns and villages in East Down, including Annahilt, Ballygowan, Ballynahinch, Castlewellan, Crossgar, Downpatrick, Dromore, Drumaness, Dundrum, Hillsborough, Newcastle, Saintfield and The Spa. Works commenced in early 2016 and is due to be completed in 2018. The project will involve a capital investment of around £60m and will make gas available to circa 28,000 domestic and commercial properties.
* These figures have been taken from the Utility Regulator’s Retail Market Monitoring Quarterly Transparency Report, Quarter 4: October – December 2016 published on 28th February 2017.
The Department’s Strategic Energy Framework 2010 (SEF), which was fully endorsed by the Northern Ireland Executive, is committed to extending the natural gas network in Northern Ireland where it is economic to do so. Gas network extension supports a number of the NI Executive’s key objectives in the draft 2016-21 Programme for Government. These include:
- the need to promote a secure, sustainable and cost-efficient energy supply (Outcome 1)
- the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Outcome 2)
Almost 70 per cent of homes in Northern Ireland use oil for heating, along with significant oil usage by businesses and the public sector. As natural gas is the least polluting fossil fuel, extending the natural gas network to further areas can help to reduce green house gas emissions as well as offering a more efficient choice of fuel to businesses, the public sector and domestic consumers.
Other gas initiatives
The Department continues to support initiatives to provide gas storage in Northern Ireland and there are current proposals to develop an underground storage facility below Larne Lough in East Antrim.
The Department is also working closely with the Utility Regulator and the natural gas industry on gas market arrangements, ensuring that EU and UK energy policy and legislative requirements are delivered in Northern Ireland. Gas market activities also include promoting greater retail competition where this is possible, and to provide further extension of the gas network where it is economically viable.
There is also significant liaison with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in London and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in Dublin in relation to a range of gas market issues, including security of supply.
Natural gas licences
Gas licences (conveyance, storage and supply of natural gas) are granted by the Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulation under Article 8 of the Gas (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.
Information on the procedures governing applications for the granting of natural gas licences can be accessed at the NIAUR website, using the link below.
Gas wayleaves (necessary)
The procedures governing the grant by the Department of necessary (or compulsory) wayleaves for the installation or retention of gas pipelines are contained in paragraphs 10-12 of Schedule 3 to the Gas (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.