EIRGRID DEFENDS INTERCONNECTOR PLAN AS ORAL HEARING ENDS
EirGrid has been accused of bullying and of showing disregard and disrespect for landowners, famers and residents in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan affected by the company’s plan to build a second North/South electricity interconnector. Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty TD (Meath East) along with two Sinn Féin TDs were among a dozen people (including EirGrid) who made closing submissions to the two inspectors at an oral hearing in Carrickmacross. Ms Doherty called on An Bord Pleanála when making their decision to take into account the impact the plan would have on real lives, which she said could not be underestimated.
The application to build a 400kV overhead line with almost 300 pylons stretching 135km from Meath to Tyrone was made to the Board in June last year. It has been examined in detail at the oral hearing that began in March and lasted 35 days. It was one of the biggest ever such enquiries into what is said to be the largest single infrastructure development in the state in recent years.
Sinn Féin Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín said the Board now had an opportunity to put the rights of citizens and of the community at the centre of the planning process. He claimed EirGrid were stealing equity away from families by attempting to put pylons on their property.
His party colleague from Cavan/Monaghan Caoimghín Ó Caoláin TD said the lives, hopes, plans and ambitions of people had been suspended in midair for the past nine years as a result of the application. If EirGrid thought the repeated statements that had been made favouring an underground route were a bluff, then let them call their bluff and they would see how strong the support was for undergrounding the interconnector.
The anti-pylon group North East Pylon Pressure Campaign told the inspectors the EirGrid planning application remained invalid and should be rejected. Dr Padraig O’Reilly said multiple changes to the application that had been made during the eleven weeks oral hearing were an unacceptable waste of public monies. He said An Bord Pleanála had a duty not only to reject the application outright, but to direct that an appropriate alternative be considered for the future.
Now that the hearing was ending, the group’s position was that the application was even more inadequate, deficient and by default invalid than had originally been realised in June 2015. The significant changes, errata, omissions and admissions made during the oral hearing were a testament to this invalidity and to the fatally flawed contents of the application. The legitimacy of the application and indeed of the applicant was therefore tarnished beyond redemption.
NEPPC claimed EirGrid had taken an ‘à la carte’ approach to the planning application. For example there were now a series of options regarding access routes, guarding construction methods, concrete delivery methods, off-loading of concrete, traffic movements and traffic management options. This approach according to the group was contrary to all normal planning guidelines and instructions for the rest of the country.
Margaret Marron of the County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee claimed EirGrid, a semi-state company, had used taxpayers’ money arbitrarily to focus exclusively on their own narrow-minded objective, which was to build the power line overground on pylons, with absolutely no regard for what the affected communities or their political representatives though.
Ms Marron said to allow a developer and its richly rewarded advisors to deny blatantly in public there would be any health or life-changing impacts on vulnerable elderly people and mothers with autistic family members was incredible. It was heart- rending she said to watch private people who felt forced to outline their own personal family circumstances in a public arena; it was shocking to those present. No attempt was made to hold any of the public hearing “in camera” or in private, which is normal practice to accommodate people when issues of a sensitive nature were being considered.
Nigel Hillis of CMAPC submitted that undergrounding was the most sustainable solution. The developer had argued that it would cost more to deliver the project underground and his group accepted that the ‘nuts and bolts’ capital expenditure would be greater. But the affordability of undergrounding had never been examined, he said, because a full cost-benefit analysis had never been carried out.
Mr Hillis said the construction methodology for the pylons and lines had been totally revised in the course of the oral hearing. That section of the Environmental Impact Statement was now, in his opinion, totally deficient and not fit for purpose. He went on: “the Bob the Builder approach constantly taken by the developer: Can we fix it? Yes, we can, has no place at an oral hearing and in particular when the developer is a semi-state body who should have its planning application developed to the highest standards in all respects.”
Dr Colin Andrew of the NEPPC said the EirGrid application had been catastrophically flawed from the outset. EirGrid representatives had prevaricated and filibustered and refused to give straight ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers to questions raised by observers. He said the application had not shown that there would be any benefit to the electricity consumer by building the interconnector.
Kevin Brady, Principal Officer in charge of Strategic Energy Policy at the former Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, said a white paper on energy (Ireland’s Transition to a Low carbon Energy Future) was published in December last year, setting out a vision and framework for energy policy from 2015-2030. He said Ireland valued its relationship with Northern Ireland including energy matters and they were part of an all-island electricity market. Mr Brady said the need for an appropriate energy infrastructure including interconnectors underpinned all energy policy. But the government was not seeking to determine specific details of the interconnector scheme or to direct EirGrid about particular sites, routes or technology.
A second interconnector would fulfill the three core energy policy requirements of competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability. The proposal had been designated as an EU project of common interest. They needed to ensure there was access to wider markets and both Ireland and Northern Ireland would benefit from security of supply by having a single system across the island, Mr Brady said.
EIRGRID CLOSING SUBMISSION
EirGrid as the applicant was given the last word to explain why a 400kV alternating current (AC) overhead interconnector was a key part of Ireland’s energy future. A lawyer for the company Brian Murray SC said the proposed infrastructure was necessary to overcome the risk of system separation and to increase transfer capacity between the two electricity transmission systems on the island. It was required to achieve the absolutely critical objectives of improving market competition in the context of the Single Electricity Market, to support the development of renewable power generation and to improve the security of supply.
Mr Murray said the use of Direct Current (DC) as opposed to AC current was considered. A DC option would be suboptimal as it would not provide the same level of reliability and security of supply as an AC solution. He said there was no example of a comparable HVDC scheme embedded in an AC system. Mr Murray also spoke of the environmental considerations in the proposal.
On public consultation carried out as part of the project, Mr Murray said “this project has been the subject of exhaustive consultation. It is not and never was a ‘box ticking’ exercise”. Mr. Murray addressed the issue of temporary access routes, which was raised on several occasions during the hearing.
He said the access routes did not form part of the development. Therefore, no part of the development had changed in any way in the course of the hearing. The access routes had been included as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). For that reason, EirGrid had quite properly taken account of information gathered in the course of that process.
It was in this context, he said, that EirGrid brought a number of access routes to the attention of the attendees at the hearing in order to enable the Board to assess the modifications proposed to those access routes. These had been advised to the affected landowners.
Mr Murray concluded “EirGrid submits that the second North-South Interconnector is a project which is critically necessary. It is a project which we believe can only be sustainably developed in the manner proposed, and it is a project which minimises adverse impacts to the greatest extent possible.”
The inspectors will now prepare a report for the Board, which is expected to announce its decision later this year.