INTERCONNECTOR TIMELINE

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High voltage line electricity pylon  Pic. Michael Fisher

Plan for second interconnector goes back 14 years
Line has been designated by EU as one of 195 key energy infrastructure projects

Michael Fisher  THE IRISH TIMES

Nearly 18 months ago EirGrid applied to build a high-capacity electricity interconnector between Dublin and Tyrone, the second between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
The proposed line stretches over approximately 135km, linking the existing transmission networks in both jurisdictions between an existing substation in Woodland, Co Meath, and one planned for Turleenan in Co Tyrone.

In the Republic the development, now approved by An Bord Pleanála, will pass through Monaghan, Cavan and Meath, requiring 299 steel lattice-style pylons, ranging from 26m to 51m in height, linked to an existing pylon line.
The line has been designated by the European Commission as one of 195 key energy infrastructure projects across the EU that have been dubbed as projects of common interest. Such projects, the Commission says, “are essential for completing the European internal energy market, and for reaching the EU’s energy policy objectives of affordable, secure and sustainable energy”.

The decision by An Bord Pleanála–- one that has come with conditions – followed a second oral hearing in a Carrickmacross hotel in Co Monaghan. It lasted 12 weeks, and was one of the longest such public inquiries in the State’s history. The plan for a second interconnector between the Republic and Northern Ireland goes back 14 years when an initial feasibility study was carried out on the possibility of building a 220KV line between Tyrone and Dublin.

However, as the peace process bedded down, plans became more ambitious, and a further North/South study was carried out in 2005, which this time investigated the potential and the need for a 275KV line. A year later the cross-Border interconnector that had been shut down during the Troubles following a bomb attack on pylons near Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, was finally restored.
Information days
Meanwhile, approval was given for planning for a second line – one that had now grown to a 400KV plan – which saw EirGrid hold information open days in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. It launched an information telephone and email service in October 2007, though two years passed before it submitted a planning application to An Bord Pleanála under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.

Following a statutory consultation period, an oral hearing by An Bord Pleanála began in Carrickmacross in May 2010. However, it was brought to a sudden end within weeks, and Eirgrid withdrew the application.
The late Fine Gael councillor Owen Bannigan had revealed an error in EirGrid’s plans in the stated height of the proposed electricity pylons that would run across Monaghan on the 21st day of the oral hearing.
Two years later, Eirgrid’s then newly-appointed chief executive Fintan Slye told agendaNI magazine that a second North/South interconnector was “absolutely critical” for Northern Ireland’s future security of supply. In November 2014, EirGrid submitted its draft application file to Bord Pleanála for review. Four months later EirGrid republished its proposed line route, one that would form the basis of its planning application.
Alignment
The route plan followed a review of the December 2013 line design. The review resulted in some of the proposed tower locations being repositioned along the alignment, but the alignment itself was not changed. By June 2015, EirGrid was ready to place a public planning notice in newspapers, followed by the submission of an application shortly afterwards to the Strategic Infrastructure Division of An Bord Pleanála.
Ten weeks of public consultation followed, one that prompted 900 replies. Last January, Eirgrid offered to meet people in their homes or at one of their information offices or elsewhere to discuss their concerns.Throughout campaign groups in Monaghan and Meath have criticised the consultation, but most particularly EirGrid’s “insufficient attention” to alternatives.

Localised impacts
“In England they’re pulling down pylons; in Ireland we’re putting them up,” said one Meath resident. The final ruling from Bord Pleanála runs to 615 pages. In its conclusions the planning authority declares that it recognised that the pylons’ plan would “result in a limited number of localised impacts”. However, “having regard to the identified strategic need for the development”, the plan is in accordance with planning rules “subject to compliance with the mitigation measures” that the planning appeals board has laid down.

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DÁIL QUESTIONS ON INTERCONNECTOR

CALLS IN DÁIL FOR ELECTRICITY INTERCONNECTOR TO BE PUT UNDERGROUND

Minister awaits decision by An Bord Pleanála

Michael Fisher  Northern Standard  Thursday 23rd June p.14

At question time in the Dáil last week, Deputy Seán Fleming (Fianna Fáil, Laois-Offaly) asked the new Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources Denis Naughten to support putting the North-South electricity interconnector underground using high-voltage direct current technology. He asked the Minister if he would make a statement on the matter.

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Shane Cassells TD asking question in Dail to Climate Change Minister Denis Naughten TD

Deputy Shane Cassells (Fianna Fáil, Meath West) also asked the Minister if he would support the undergrounding of the North-South interconnector using the technology now available. Will the Minister put a halt to the current plan?, he enquired. Deputy Cassells said the current EirGrid proposal for which planning permission was being sought would destroy the landscapes of Meath, Cavan and Monaghan if monstrous pylons were to be constructed in these three counties.

Deputy Denis Naughten: In fairness, all Deputies in the region have contacted me at this stage on this issue. EirGrid is the designated transmission system operator. Its roles include the operation, maintenance and development of the electricity transmission network in Ireland. As detailed in the government policy statement on the strategic importance of transmission and other energy infrastructure, the government does not seek to direct EirGrid in the development of energy infrastructure to particular sites or routes or technologies.

EirGrid made a formal application for a North-South 400 kV interconnector project to An Bord Pleanála on 9th June 2015. This is the subject of a statutory independent planning process and is currently before An Bord Pleanála. Part of this process included an oral hearing that concluded last month. As the planning process is still ongoing, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further.

Deputy Shane Cassells: I am appealing to the Minister, on behalf of the people of these counties, to become involved because this is a major issue for Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. Not only would it destroy the landscapes of these counties, it would destroy people’s homes. I have sat in the homes of people throughout County Meath. These monstrous pylons will be built beside their homes and will destroy their lives. It is amazing to think that in 2013 the EirGrid chairman, John O’Connor, sat before a Dáil committee and said he would not want to live beside one of these pylons. However, he seems to think it is good enough for the rest of the people in these counties.

The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign is led by Aimée Treacy and Padraig O’Reilly. They have spearheaded a campaign to stop the project but they are being thwarted by the formidable legal people of EirGrid. I was at the High Court hearing some months ago when the project was challenged. The Minister’s office, under the previous officeholder, and EirGrid used powerful legal teams to fight against the community groups. We need the Minister to stand up for the people rather than EirGrid. EirGrid is spending money relentlessly on public relations campaigns to try to curry public favour, but it is destroying people’s lives. I appeal to the Minister to get involved and arrange to put these pylons and cables underground. The people need the Minister to stand up for them.

Deputy Denis Naughten: I understand the frustration among people in this case, but the government does not direct EirGrid on what mechanism it should use. We need an interconnector. People agree that we need an interconnector. The debate has been how that connection would be made. The government has not directed EirGrid in any way in this matter. This project is before An Bord Pleanála at the moment. An Bord Pleanála has weighed up the options and all the arguments on all sides. We are going to get a decision from An Bord Pleanála.

I have read some of the numerous reports into undergrounding. However, the reality is that the North-South transmission project is required to ensure security of supply of electricity to Northern Ireland. The existing 225 kV double circuit overhead transmission line between Louth and Armagh is simply insufficient to meet the needs.

Deputy Shane Cassells: The Minister referred to the An Bord Pleanála hearing. I was there and gave evidence at the hearing in Monaghan as well. Representatives from EirGrid came in on numerous occasions during the hearing and changed aspects of their application during the hearing. They came with images that bore no resemblance to the application. These people are ruthless in the pursuit of their aim and do not care about the people. This Chamber is here to care about the people. The government can most certainly become involved.

The previous two Ministers had no wish to hear from the people’s side. Therefore, I am appealing to the Minister not to read out the material prepared by the Department but to listen to the voices. This can be stopped before the September ruling by An Bord Pleanála. We need to see an intervention by government in this respect.

Deputy Denis Naughten: I have listened to a number of Members from the areas concerned, all of whom have expressed their concerns on this matter. I have not yet come across one person who takes the view that we do not need the interconnector. It is needed because if the existing line were to go down, there simply would not be enough electricity reaching the north east of the island to keep the lights on.

Deputy Shane Cassells: I agree with the Minister.

Deputy Denis Naughten: We have a single electricity market and we need it. It is helping to drive down the cost of electricity for every person throughout the country. 

Deputy Shane Cassells: The point is that it should be done underground.

Deputy Denis Naughten: I hear what Deputy Cassells is saying and I have heard and listened to what other colleagues in the House have said as well. I understand the frustration that exists but a statutory process is ongoing.

Deputy Shane Cassells: The frustrating thing is that Pat Rabbitte said the project would drive up prices.

ENERGY PRICES

In an earlier question on energy prices, Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister whether the Electricity Supply Board should consider reducing its charges for electricity, given its reported profits of €635 million in 2015; he said high energy prices were being maintained to make the ESB an attractive proposition for privatisation. Surely the Minister is not satisfied with the minimal 6% cut in electricity prices by Electric Ireland. Does he agree that the company must go much further than this? Does he believe the ESB is being fattened up for privatisation?… 

Deputy Denis Naughten: Prices are not being kept high. No one in this country can keep prices high because they are unregulated. There is an open market. Representatives of ESB tell me the company makes little of its money from the Electric Ireland arm. Thankfully, ESB is in the black and making profits a little short of €300 million. A considerable amount of this profit comes from other arms of the company, including the network and electricity generation arms. I am told that of the pre-tax profits generated by the ESB, approximately 14% relate to the retail arm.

Other companies in the sector make margins as well. It does not seem to me to be excessive. The Commission for Energy Regulation is accountable to the House and the relevant Dáil committee. I call on Deputy Barry to make direct contact with the Chairman of that committee and bring the commissioners before the committee to quiz them on the issue.

Deputy Mick Barry: There the Minister goes again. Like Pontius Pilate he is washing his hands of the situation. I will ask the Minister a far simpler question. How does the Minister feel about the fact that consumers in this country are paying the second highest electricity rates in the European Union, while, at the same time, the ESB is making profits which, whether we use the Minister’s figures or my figures, run to hundreds of millions of Euro?

Deputy Denis Naughten: Electricity prices are higher here than in most parts of Europe. However, we need to remember that Ireland is on an island. We have a small electricity market. It includes the North and South and we have had reference to the single electricity market on the island of Ireland. There are geographic issues.

The other point is that we have to important a substantial amount of our energy. We are not self-sufficient in the energy sector and that adds to the costs. As a result of the size of the market, there are additional transmission costs and such costs are not incurred in continental Europe. As a result these particular challenges are built into the cost.

I am not trying to wash my hands of it. By law I cannot directly intervene in this matter. However, Deputies can question the Commission for Energy Regulation. I am calling on Deputy Barry to use the tools available to him in the parliamentary committee to raise these questions.

INTERCONNECTOR DAY35 MEATH

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.

INTERCONNECTOR DAY27

­­­­­­­­DAY TWENTY-SEVEN

This section dealt with the Baile Phib Gaeltacht near Navan, Co. Meath

Three submissions were made to the hearing in Irish concerning the importance of the Baile Ghib Gaeltacht in Co. Meath and how it could be affected by EirGrid’s interconnector plan. Questioned by a local resident, a consultant archaeologist for EirGrid confirmed that the power lines would at one point near Oristown pass over the route of the Tain Bó Cuailgne march.

Uinsionn O Gairbhi a local resident explained the history of the area. This Gaeltacht was founded in 1937, when twenty Irish-speaking families were moved from the west coast of Ireland under the Land Commission. Each family received a house, 22 acres, farm animals and implents in exchange for land and property in their native county. Baile Ghib was eventually given official Gaeltacht status, along with Ráth Cairn in 1967.

Mr O Gairbhi said young children from Dublin, Navan, Kells and Drogheda came to the area to learn Irish. If the pylons and power lines were erected they would constitute a danger zone that would have to be avoided. These dangerous wires must be put underground, he said, so that the health of people would not be in danger and they would not interfere with the beauty of the area.

Athboy resident Cathal Seoige a former member of Údarás na Gaeltachta said Baile Ghib was full of heritage and history. He also called for the high voltage lines not to go through the area and insisted they should be placed underground.

Máire Nic an tSithigh also called on EirGrid to put the interconnector underground and said this would be the best solution for our language and heritage.

EirGrid Project Manager Aidan Geoghegan said that after considering the technical, environmental and economic aspects they considered that an underground HVDC cable would not be appropriate. He said there had been 400kV overhead lines in Ireland for the past thirty years. They were very reliable and performed well even in bad weather.

Consultant archaeologist for EirGrid Declan Moore said the overhead lines would have no direct physical impact on the Táin route and it was not a registered recorded monument. In answer to Maura Sheehy he revealed that the Táin route would pass under the proposed development close to Oristown.

This section involved landowners and groups from Co. Monaghan

BERNIE RUTH, Secretary of the Corduff Raferagh Heritage Group explained that it was set up in 2000 to share, preserve and archive the local heritage. She was sure the professionals from EirGrid had exmined the myriad of maps available to them to check for any archaeological sites of interest. But what they did not have was local knowledge, local interest and local passion, which their voluntary group had.

There was a cillín in Corrinenty, an unmarked burial ground for unbaptised children, in very close proximity to the planned line and a pylon. There were Mass rocks in Greaghlatacapple and Umerafree, and Mass was celebrated annually at Greaghlatacapple, which would be within view of many of the pylons. There were many more places of interest to them—the locals—within the area.

Each year they held a number of heritage walks around the townlands, pointing out items of local history and gathering information from local people. Currently they were recording and photographing old structures like buildings, gates, piers and bridges. Quite often the pictures were impeded by the current ESB or telephone poles. What would it be like with pylons and heavy lines?

The group was planning to re-establish the old Mass path on Corduff mountain, with a viewing area on the summit where you can see as far as Cavan, Louth, Meath and Armagh. But with the possibility of viewing more pylons than scenery, this project might have to be abandoned.

The heritage group, like the majority of their neighbours, were ordinary people, living ordinary lives. They had no objection to progress but hoped that An Bord Pleanála and EirGrid used common sense and buried the lines, not only in the interest of preserving the beautiful drumlin landscape and their heritage,but most importantly their future mental and physical health.

She said that she lived two fields away from one of the proposed pylons, on a narrow country road that was used by many people for their daily recreational walk. She did not think there was any person who had come to this hearing over the past 26 days, no matter which side of the room they were on, who would let their children, siblings, parents or any family member live under or near these pylons or lines, no matter what the experts said. The experts did not always get it right, she added.

Bernie Ruth said that to allow the project go ahead as planned when there was an alternative would be a shame and a disgrace to each and every person present at the hearing. It was now time to use common sense and to bury the lines, not our people.

JAMES BANNINGAN, Tossey, Secretary of Lough Egish Gun Club, said three or four of the proposed towers and the power line would be highly visible from the main road between Lough Egish and Castleblayney. He expressed concerns about the possible leakage of silt from construction sites into the lake.

There were dangers for fly fishermen who were fishing near power lines, he said. He was worried about the possible effects on angling tourism.

SEAMUS QUINN, Cooltrim Egish, said EirGrid wold never be allowed into his land and he hoped they did not get planning permission. One of the proposed pylons wold be right in front of his house, he said.

GABRIEL WARD, Tooa, referred to the flora and fauna and wildlife in the former Shantonagh House estate. The woodland contained various types of trees including oak, ash and hazel. A lot of people went for walks in the area, which also contained two old flax mills. Bats had been known to roost in the area.

The following landowners were represented by NIGEL HILLS, who questioned EirGrid on their behalf: Roy Brown, Eamonn Kerr, Philip McDermott, Enda and Rose Duffy, Margaret O’Neill, Peadar McSkeane, Joe Boylan, Kevin Duffy and family, Patrick and Sarah Duffy, Hugh and Bernadette Duffy, Colman and Patricia Ryan, Eileen Smyth, Eamonn McNally, Gene Connolly, and Jim and Mary Connolly. He raised their concerns about access routes, pylon locations, the lack of consultation, health and safety, farm impacts, land and property devaluation, development restrictions, and the effect on flora and fauna.

INTERCONNECTOR WEEK9

‘END THIS COSTLY CHARADE’ SAY ANTI-PYLON CAMPAIGNERS

EIRGRID ACCUSED OF TURNING HEARING INTO FARCE AFTER MORE CHANGES MADE TO ITS PLANNING APPLICATION

Michael Fisher    MEATH CHRONICLE   p.1

EirGrid has been accused by anti-pylon campaigners in Meath and Monaghan of making up their application as they go along. They have accused the semi-state company of turning the planning procedure into an absolute disgrace during the oral hearing into the proposed North/South electricity interconnector. The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign called on An Bord Pleanála to put an end to what they said was a “costly charade”.

It follows the introduction by the company for the third time of modified access routes along narrow country lanes that would be used by contractors building the latticed steel pylons and erecting the power lines. Thirty-two separate changes have now been made by EirGrid since the hearing began last month.

On day 26 of the oral hearing a lawyer for EirGrid Jarlath Fitzsimons SC said there had been an ongoing review of the 584 temporary routes identified. Six new ones had been notified to An Bord Pleanála on the first day at the Nuremore Hotel on March 7th. Nineteen more changes were made a fortnight later following the discovery of discrepancies in mapping. Shortly before the close of proceedings last week, Mr Fitzsimons revealed seven more alterations to access routes. A further eleven minor mapping modifications to the routes were identified. According to the lawyer, EirGrid had responded in a positive way to observations made by landowners during the course of the hearing regarding specific tower locations.

Temporary access routes are included in the application to enable An Bord Pleanála to conduct an environmental assessment of all aspects of the proposed development. EirGrid spokesperson David Martin said: “With a total of 584 temporary access routes in the planning application, it is understandable that modifications to a small number have been proposed as information comes from observations made at the oral hearing and also from the continuing reviews.”

“In order to enter the area for the proposed development, we have identified 584 temporary access routes. We have listened with interest to the detailed submissions given by landowners along the proposed line route. Several have focused on the detail of the temporary access routes. This feedback has been very helpful as we endeavour to provide the most convenient access routes possible for landowners.”

The hearing in Carrickmacross in front of two Bord Pleanála inspectors is now in its ninth week and is not expected to finish until the end of May. It’s one of the longest such planning enquiries into what is one of the largest ever infrastructure projects in the state. EirGrid is proposing to erect a 400kV high voltage line with 400 pylons from Woodland in Co. Meath across parts of Cavan and Meath into Co. Armagh and finishing at Turleenan near the Moy in Co. Tyrone.

On the 22nd March, during week three of the hearing EirGrid announced a number of major flaws in its planning application and made a request to An Bord Pleanála (ABP) to change nineteen access entrances and routes to landowner properties. The NEPPC said landowners had neither been notified of nor consulted on these plans at this stage. EirGrid conceded that all landowners needed to be notified.

On Tuesday 26th April, EirGrid yet again announced without any prior notice a further request to ABP to change an additional 18 access routes, making ‘minor deviations’ to access route maps. The affected landowners, similar to the situation pertaining in March, had neither been notified of nor consulted on these plans at this stage. EirGrid again conceded that all landowners needed to be notified.

NEPPC in a statement pointed out that based on the extraordinary revelations on 22nd March they had requested the two inspectors to seek approval from the Planning Board that the hearing be halted. The inspectors had decided to continue with the hearing. NEPPC then wrote to An Bord Pleanála directly, requesting that at least the access route changes and other errata in the planning application be updated on the planning application website, but they had still not received any response. NEPPC said the latest changes made a mockery of the oral hearing and of the planning process itself. NEPPC called on An Bord to halt the oral hearing and take responsibility for not allowing the public’s time and money to be wasted by what they said were EirGrid’s farcical activities.

Spokesman Padraig O’Reilly said: “EirGrid is being allowed to make wholesale changes to its planning application on an ongoing basis, without so much as a query from ABP. It looks like EirGrid is running the show all by itself. In the latest letter received by landowners, where they have been informed of changes to accessing their lands, EirGrid states in relation to the ongoing oral hearing that “We will of course facilitate any submission you may wish to make arising from this modified access route”.

“The official position from An Bord was that anyone who wanted to make a submission to the oral hearing firstly had to have made a written submission by August 24th 2015 and then submit a request to make an oral submission by February 4th 2016. Yet EirGrid were now writing to landowners as if it was representing An Bord Pleanála (ABP) and making up their own rules for the oral hearing participation. ABP needs to quickly get a grip here before the whole integrity of the process in general is destroyed. It is simply not acceptable to sit on its hands and watch EirGrid take this brazen approach”, he said.

“NEPPC is yet again calling on elected representatives to put an end to this farcical situation. EirGrid is making a mockery of the strategic infrastructure process for a second time in five years. We cannot have a situation where a state company can remain immune to accountability and in so doing drain public confidence and bring the strategic infrastructure process into disrepute”, the statement added.

Mary Marron of the County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee said what was going on was an absolute disgrace. She wondered if more information was going to be added during the rest of the hearing. People had been coming into the hearing and pointing out to EirGrid errors in the access routes. If this was what was going to happen continually then the remaining landowners due to make submissions would have to decide if there was any point.

Monaghan Fine Gael Councillor Sean Gilliland said he found EirGrid’s approach to be absolutely insulting to the An Bord and to the local communities in the county. EirGrid believed they had identified issues with access routes but it was the public who had done so. Cllr Gilliland wondered if the environmental impact reports were wrong then were the health reports flawed as well? Our lives and the future of our young people are in your hands, he told the inspectors.

Cllr Gilliland said the planning application was flawed. On behalf of people in this rural part of Ireland he said he was begging the inspectors to consider the recent submissions made by landowners and householders, all of whom objected to the overhead power lines. What was happening was unjust and absolutely contrary to democracy and civil rights. It was not morally right nor would it ever be. They were being pushed into the mud by EirGrid who were taking information and re-presenting it in submissions they did not understand.

 

 

 

INTERCONNECTOR DAY22

This dealt with the potential effects on the Brittas estate Co. Meath

Probing questions to EirGrid by a lawyer acting for the Brittas estate near Nobber in Co. Meath revealed what anti-pylon campaigners believe are several inadequacies in the planning application for the North/South interconnector. EirGrid has said the detailed environmental impact statement it submitted has complied with the relevant Irish and EU regulations.

Michael O’Donnell BL acting for the owners of Brittas House and demesne Neville Jessop and Oinri Jackson asked EirGrid why no site specific details were provided regarding construction of the proposed pylons, the felling of a section of mature woodland, and the impact the proposed line would have on the views from a wing of the house built in 1732 and incorporating an earlier residence from 1672. The house was extended in the 18th Century and a ballroom wing, designed by Francis Johnston (architect of the GPO), was added in the early 19th Century. The house is located approximately 430m to the east of the proposed development.

Three ringforts are within 400m of the proposed line. According to an archaeological consultant for EirGrid, Declan Moore, these monuments will have their setting impacted on by the proposed development. The environmental impact statement explained that as much as was practicably possible the topography of the area had been used to keep impacts on the setting of Brittas House to a minimum. Mr Moore found that where the proposed development crossed the entrance avenue, there would be no views of the house and likewise in the vicinity of the house there were no views of the proposed development. But he added that there was the potential there may be views from some of the upstairs windows of the house, especially during the winter months. The impact on the setting of the house was in his view slight to moderate.

Questioned by Mr O’Donnell, Mr Moore said he had not entered the demesne as permission had not been granted but he had carried out from the public road a visual inspection of some of the three archaeological monuments inside it. He insisted that the development would have no direct physical impact on any such monument. He also repeated a number of times that there were no national monuments within the demesne.

This was disputed by the lawyer for the owners. He revealed that a ministerial letter had been sent out in July 1997 to the then owners referring to a monument in the townland of Brittas with details of preservation requirements.

At a previous module Neville Jessop explained how one of the access routes proposed by EirGrid to a pylon site would require concrete lorries to pass over an old bridge which had cracks in the stonework. He told the company the access bridge was not available because of its condition. Any repair work that needed to be done on the structure would require notification to the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht. A lawyer for EirGrid said on Tuesday it did not know the bridge had been closed for health and safety reasons.

 

 

 

INTERCONNECTOR DAY21

This section was devoted to specific landowner and public issues from Co. Meath and around Kingscourt Co. Cavan

The hearing was told about specific landowner concerns in Co. Meath along the proposed line from Kilmainhamwood as far as Woodland, where it would enter the existing sub-station.

EirGrid was accused of spending its money on things like sponsorship of the Virginia pumpkin festival, the GAA (under 21 and Australian Rules), two local radio current affairs programmes and advertising in local media. A company spokesman said a key finding of a number of reviews of EirGrid’s operations and engagement with the wider community had shown the need for effective communication of the necessity for grid infrastructure to ensure a safe and sustainable electricity supply. As part of the company’s strategy to address this, it was placing an emphasis on improving how it communicated its role, including through advertising and sponsorship.

David Martin said “We welcome the strong engagement from landowners, public representatives and community members at the An Bord Pleanála oral hearing. The oral hearing provides an opportunity for all relevant information to be brought before An Bord Pleanála, and ensures that their concerns are addressed. We encourage all landowners and concerned residents to attend over coming weeks. If you would like more information on any aspect of the project, you can talk to our team on the ground, or drop in to our offices in Navan or Carrickmacross. Contact details for our Community Liaison Officer Gráinne Duffy and Agricultural Liaison Officer John Boylan are at www.eirgrid.com. Since submitting our planning application for the interconnector in June 2015, we have continued to engage with communities in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.”

EirGrid said the consideration of alternatives to an overhead line, including underground cables (both cross-country and along public roads), had been outlined its planning application. This had relied on a suite of reports prepared by the government, third parties and EirGrid itself. One of these, prepared by PB Power, showed that an underground cable option is considerably more expensive, at €670 million more that overhead lines.

The government-appointed Independent Expert Commission found that an underground cable option would be €333million more expensive. The reason for the difference in these figures was that the PB Power report studied a cross-country option, while the IEC report considered a roadside route. The company said a further detailed study of roads in the project area had shown that the use of the M3 and local roads was simply not suitable for the interconnector project.

When considering alternatives for the project, cost was just one factor. Underground cables would also not be as reliable as overhead lines, causing greater complexity and greater risk. EirGrid said it also studied the use of disused railway lines and a subsea option for cables but they were not viable options for this project.