PYLONS CONTROVERSY

ANTI-PYLON GROUP STEPS UP CAMPAIGN AGAINST EIRGRID PLANS FOR ELECTRICITY INTERCONNECTOR
Michael Fisher

EirGrid substation at Ballykelly, Co. Louth near Inniskeen for North/South Interconnector Photo © Michael Fisher

EirGrid substation at Ballykelly, Co. Louth near Inniskeen for North/South Interconnector Photo © Michael Fisher

A group representing landowners and householders opposed to EirGrid plans for an overhead North/South electricity connector that would be routed through south and mid Monaghan met last night to arrange a fresh campaign against the proposals. A public meeting has been organised by the County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee to be held on Monday April 20th at Aughnamullen Community Centre, Lough Egish. All of the county’s TDs and councillors are being invited to attend. Committee member Nigel Hillis told the Northern Standard their opposition to the plans was stronger than before.

Last week EirGrid’s Chief Executive Fintan Slye visited Carrickmacross as the company announced its new draft strategy for the future development of Ireland’s electricity transmission grid. It included updated plans for the North/South 400 kV Interconnection Development that would cross five counties from Meath to Tyrone.

EirGrid banner for North/South Interconnector Photo © Michael Fisher

EirGrid banner for North/South Interconnector Photo © Michael Fisher

EirGrid and its Northern counterpart SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland) are jointly proposing a new high capacity electricity interconnector between the two networks. The draft strategy says there remains a clear need for the North/South Interconnector, and that the existing preference for a 400kV overhead line is still the most appropriate solution for the project.

The development would link a substation at Woodland, Batterstown in County Meath with a planned substation in Turleenan, in the Dungannon area of County Tyrone. EirGrid intends to submit a planning application for the North/South Interconnector in the coming weeks. Currently there is only a single interconnector, that runs past Ballykelly on the Carrickmacross to Dundalk road in County Louth (a few kilometers from Inniskeen)  to Tandragee in County Armagh.

Shane Brennan of EirGrid (right) points out the route of the proposed interconnector Photo © Michael Fisher

Shane Brennan of EirGrid (right) points out the route of the proposed interconnector Photo © Michael Fisher

At their public information office in Carrickmacross, SONI Eirgrid Project Manager Shane Brennan from Clontibret explained to me that the new interconnector would increase the capacity and reliability of interconnection between the two networks. It would allow the two independent networks to operate together as if they were one system, thus improving competition, and securing the electricity supply throughout the island of Ireland. EirGrid maintains that operating the two networks as if they were one system will bring cost savings for all electricity consumers as larger electricity systems can be operated more efficiently than smaller ones.

The increase in interconnection capacity will also facilitate the development of wind generation, which will help achieve Ireland’s renewable energy targets. Last November EirGrid submitted its draft application to An Bord Pleanála for review.  The following month, An Bord informed EirGrid that it has reviewed the draft and that certain specified missing information was required to be submitted. Last month EirGrid sent in further information, as requested.

EirGrid pylon at Ballykelly, Co. Louth near Inniskeen Photo © Michael Fisher

EirGrid pylon at Ballykelly, Co. Louth near Inniskeen Photo © Michael Fisher

Meanwhile EirGrid has re-published its proposed line route which will form the basis of an application for planning approval to be submitted to the planning authority in the coming months. This follows a review of the December 2013 line design. The review resulted in some of the proposed pylon locations being re-positioned along the proposed route, but the alignment itself was not changed.

Maps have now been made available showing the proposed route in County Monaghan. It takes in parts of Kingscourt, Co. Cavan, Magheracloone, Corduff/Raferagh then on to a controversial section around Lough Egish. The route continues to Drumhowan, Doohamlet, Annyalla and Clontibret where it skirts the battlefield site and then joins the Northern grid in County Armagh.

EirGrid has opened three project information offices, including one at the Workhouse in Carrickmacross where those with an interest can  call in and meet the project team. The Carrick office on the Shercock Road is open on Mondays and Thursdays 12 noon – 6pm.

EirGrid information office Carrickmacross Photo © Michael Fisher

EirGrid information office Carrickmacross Photo © Michael Fisher

According to Fintan Slye of EirGrid, there remains a clear strategic need for a second north-south interconnector.
“We committed last year, to be open with people and find out what it is they want from this most critical of infrastructure.  We are now asking people to give us their views on our draft strategy”, he said. Mr Slye concluded: “EirGrid must ensure the necessary grid is in place to ensure that Ireland remains competitive – fostering economic growth, attracting new investments, and supporting indigenous jobs. It must do this without placing too great a burden on communities, or too high a cost on industry. When we have received people’s feedback we will submit this draft to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for its consideration before publishing the final strategy later this year.”

The County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee has been campaigning against the overhead route for the past seven years. It has argued that the lines should be placed underground. Nigel Hillis, an engineer, said the need for a new interconnector had not been identified by EirGrid and they had not persuaded people living in the affected area that it was needed. This was not the case with another major infrastructure development when the main N2 road was being improved with by-passes around Castleblayney and Carrickmacross.

He said there was still serious opposition to the plans. One of the main concerns from the start, he said, had been the scale of the project, because the size and topography of the small farms in the county had not been taken into account when the positioning of pylons was being worked out. He said EirGrid had not identified the need for having big pylons on top of hills, close to a farmyard or houses. (The company said the centre of the proposed high voltage line would be no nearer to a residence than 50 metres).

Mr Hillis questioned why EirGrid was suggesting that part of the proposed GridWest scheme (up to 30km) could be situated underground using trenches alongside roads. He claimed that people in Monaghan were being treated as second class citizens and said they wanted to be treated the same as others.

The Dáil Communications Committee chaired by John O’Mahony T.D. has invited EirGrid to appear before them in the coming weeks to answer questions about the North/South interconnector. Mr Hillis hopes his group will also be given a chance to put their views across as well. From the first day of their formation the committee had argued for an underground route and that was now feasible, he said, as this option was being considered for the other two major grid projects.

Eirgrid says there are technical issues with putting 400kV AC lines underground over long distances and there would be operational complexities. It maintains that underground cables for the North/South route would be too expensive and difficult to install. Local residents however think the cost to them, their livelihoods, their homes and to local tourism would be equally damaging.

Northern Standard Thursday April 9th p.31 with pictures by © Pat Byrne

Northern Standard Thursday April 9th p.31 with pictures by © Pat Byrne

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