EIRGRID ACCUSED OF BULLYING LOCAL PEOPLE AS ORAL HEARING ENDS
ANTI PYLON GROUP SAYS APPLICATION MUST BE REJECTED
Michael Fisher MEATH CHRONICLE Saturday 28th May
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 this week to the two inspectors at an oral hearing in Carrickmacross.
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.
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. The significant changes, errata, omissions and admissions made during the oral hearing were a testament to the invalidity and the fatally flawed contents of the application.
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 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.
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.
REGINA DOHERTY TD at a previous sitting called the hearing “an absolute disgrace”. She told presiding inspector Breda Gannon there was a technical, financial and information deficit in the details provided to the Board. She requested that EirGrid should be asked to address and fix the deficit and then come back and have another debate about the plan.
Ms Doherty said the first public consultation regarding the original proposal was in 2007 and EirGrid had had several years to prepare a new application (submitted in June 2015). It was an inadequate application for the people of Meath, Cavan and Monaghan to defend and oppose the case. Although she acknowledged the need for security of electricity supply, the overhead lines and pylons proposed were not the appropriate technology.
Ms Doherty said the company had to show why other than overhead options were technically inferior and take into account the effects on land valuation and the impact on flora and fauna. The only thing they heard from EirGrid was that “we know best; the people know nothing”. There had never been a fully costed underground route either acknowledged or entertained. This was a huge flaw. EirGrid’s unwillingness on this was a disservice and an injustice to the people who would be affected. The financial and emotional costs had not been weighed up.
The Meath East TD said she was pleading with the inspectors to get an explanation why. We are arguing in the dark, she said, about the technical and financial perspective. She was asking EirGrid to go back to the drawing board and come back with what they should have done in the first place. EirGrid should put the options forward and allow a reasonable and informed debate and they should listen to the very real concerns raised by people at the hearing.
AIDAN GEOGHEGAN, EirGrid Project Manager, explained the company’s approach to the application. He said a high voltage DC underground option had greater complexity and brought greater risks. It would not do the job as well as an overhead route and was not in line with best international practice. He put the extra cost involved at €670 million.
Dr GEORGE EOGHAN from Nobber, Co. Meath, an internationally acclaimed archaeologist who excavated the passage tomb at Knowth said it would be horrifying to put a series of pylons and power lines near the historic Bronze Age site at Teltown (Tealtainn), a key cultural area. The former UCD Professor said he could not undertstand the proposal as he thought the Irish people had a greater respect for our national monuments. What was proposed amounted to a criminal action, he claimed.
He said Teltown should be left in its rural setting and kept as it is. The unspoilt rural landscape must be preserved for present and future generations. Dr Eoghan called for the EirGrid application to be rejected.
DECLAN MOORE, consultant archaeologist for EirGrid, said earlier in the hearing in the Teltown area, no known archaeological monuments would be directly, physically impacted upon by the proposed development. Because of its high archaeological potential and as previously unrecorded archaeological remains could be found during the construction of the towers, mitigation measures were recommended.
The magnitude of the impact of the proposed development on the setting of Rath Dhu, the fort thought to be the centre for the ancient Teltown funeral games, was considered to be minor with the overall significance of the impact on the setting of the monument deemed to be slight.
Although the proposed power lines were almost 700m from Teltown church, a number of the towers associated with the development would be visible as it passed to the east. The magnitude of the impact of the proposed development was found to be substantial. The overall significance of the impact on the setting of Teltown church was found to be moderate negative.
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.