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.

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INTERCONNECTOR DAY35

EIRGRID DEFENDS INTERCONNECTOR PLAN AS ORAL HEARING ENDS

Michael Fisher

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.

 

 

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 DAY7

This section dealt with the impacts of the project on health

The third week of the oral hearing opened with presentations on the impacts on health of the interconnector. The County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee told the hearing local residents were terrified about the proposed 400kV line and felt they had been bullied and intimidated by EirGrid.

CMAPC FEARS ABOUT HEALTH ISSUES

Margaret Marron from Corbane, Shantonagh said the fact that the proposed line was going so close to their homes had already had a detrimental impact on their lives. The perceived risk of constant exposure to radiation sent shivers down their spines, she said. They had genuinely held concerns and fears about health issues arising from the planning application.

They knew their property would be devalued; they would not be able to provide (building) sites for their children; it would impact negatively on their work and farming practices; it would produce annoying noise. They were terrified it would affect their own physical health and more especially that of their children. This was the reality of life for people along the proposed route in Co. Monaghan.

They were very angry and felt that they had been bullied, intimidated and treated as second class citizens by EirGrid, she said. Almost 800 submissions to the Planning Board had referenced health as a huge issue. Farming including milking of cows would be totally unsustainable as there was no time frame on the project, no telling what time of year construction would start or finish and a farmer could not do his work without free and unrestricted access to his land.

Margaret Marron said there were a number of families with children with autism living in tranquil rural locations that were in close proximity to the proposed line. The quality of their lives would change irrevocably if the interconnector in its proposed format went ahead, she told the hearing.

Children with autism were highly sensitive to noises such as those emitted from power cables. One parent with a pylon construction site entrance 10 metres from the boundary of her home was absolutely terrified about the possible effect on her child with autism.

EirGrid’s spin doctors and PR consultants had failed miserably over the past eight years to assuage people’s concerns and fears regarding exposure to electromagnetic fields, a feature of the overhead high voltage power lines.

There were many landowners in the Monaghan area who were fitted with implanted medical devices (pacemakers) who worked in the open air and would have to work under and around the power line. This seemed to be potentially a serious health risk and EirGrid had just swept it under the carpet.

She said the committee believed that an EirGrid commitment not to place an overhead line within 40 metres of a dwelling house as a precautionary measure was simply not good enough. She hoped EirGrid would comply with any new pylon policy and siting guidelines that were currently being drawn up by the Department of Environment, which is updating a report published in 2007. The project is due to be completed this year.

The EirGrid CEO Fintan Slye had said he personally “would have no issue living next to a pylon” because he knows “it is technically safe and I have no problem with that” (December 2013). If that was the attitude of the CEO then it was no wonder all health concerns had been totally dismissed by EirGrid, the CMAPC representative said.

She concluded: “He is entitled to his view, the same as anyone else, but I can assure this hearing that it is not the view of CMAPC or of the landowners, residents and communities that we represent”.

NEPPC

Padraig O’Reilly said there had been no stakeholder input on the routing of this major new power line, despite a recommendation in the March 2007 report to the Environment Department by an expert group on health effects of electromagnetic fields. In the contention of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign the application sought to impose wholly unacceptable and unnecessary risks on local communities in Meath, Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone.

He claimed EirGrid had failed to provide the Planning Board with an objective analysis of the documented risks relating to electromagnetic fields and high voltage power lines. Because EirGrid had failed even to consider mitigation against any of the risk factors, it left no option for the Board but to refuse the application.

MEATH COUPLE OUTLINE HEALTH RISKS

A County Meath couple claimed the cancer they were diagnosed with had been brought on by living “in a toxic environment” beneath a high-power voltage power line for over three decades. Paula and Mike Sheridan used to live at Curraghtown, near Dunshaughlin, in a house that is 35 metres from a 400kv high voltage line from Moneypoint running directly above their back garden towards a sub-station nearby at Woodland. Both of them were diagnosed with different types of cancer in recent years and have now moved to rented accommodation. Mrs Sheridan who is a medical scientist raised her concerns about the impact on health of electromagnetic fields.

She said they believed there was a connection between their ill health and their long-term exposure over thirty years to such high levels of an electromagnetic field. During all their suffering, the response from EirGrid had been appalling, they said. The company’s attitude along with the ESB during this sad and stressful period was to ignore and dismiss their concerns. This was despite a visit to their home by a senior EirGrid representative in August 2013 when the couple raised all their health issues.

EIRGRID REPLIES ON EMF FIELDS

EirGrid said there was an absence of any proven harm from electromagnetic fields. International experts brought in by the power transmission company explained that the scientific consensus was that there was no credible way to explain how electromagnetic fields could cause cancer. The overall results of scientific research on this issue did not confirm this fear, or explain how it could happen, according to EirGrid.

Dr William Bailey, one of two scientific consultants brought in from the United States, is an expert in applying assessment methods to environmental and occupational health issues. He explained how it was useful to understand the role of scientific research about electromagnetic fields and health. He said EMF fields could not reasonably be taken to be a carcinogen. He pointed out there was a difference between health hazards (such as being hit by a car) and health risks and the terms had to be used correctly. Along with Dr Gabor Mezei a senior managing scientist with over 25 years’ experience in health research, they set out to answer some of the points raised by the Sheridans.

EirGrid’s explanation in its supporting documentation is that electric and magnetic fields, or EMFs, are present in both natural and man-made environments. People everywhere are exposed to EMFs wherever they live. EirGrid says it operates the transmission grid to stringent safety standards set by national and European regulators. They set guidelines on the maximum amount of EMFs that the infrastructure can emit, and we work well within these limits.

EirGrid acknowledges that the issue of EMFs is an emotive and contentious one, powered by fears about health that are strongly held by some people. The company says some people fear that EMFs cause cancer. However, the overall results of scientific research on this issue do not confirm this fear, or explain how it could happen, according to the company. The concern that electric power lines may cause childhood cancer arose in 1979. It started with a single epidemiological study. Since then, many large-scale studies have investigated this initial finding. These studies have not convinced health authorities that EMFs are a cause of cancer, EirGrid points out.

 

 

 

INTERCONNECTOR DAY5

 

 

DAY FIVE

This section dealt with the consideration of alternatives

Michael Fisher    Northern Standard

MONAGHAN COUNTY COUNCIL

A senior planner from Monaghan County Council Toirleach Gourley talked about alternative routes for the proposed interconnector. He told the two planning inspectors from An Bord Pleanála there was a lack of robust consideration of alternative routes along the West Louth and South Armagh corridor near Crossmaglen. He said the preferred route chosen in the application had gravitated towards the County Monaghan area. Furthermore there was a pre-defined border crossing (into County Armagh at Lemgare near Clontibret) and no alternative had been given.

EIRGRID SAYS LINE CAN’T AVOID MONAGHAN

EirGrid senior planner Des Cox in response to Mr Gourley said the routing alternatives had been subject to a detailed re-evaluation following the initial proposal in 2005. The content of the documents published then had been re-visited. The technical needs and environmental constraints had been taken into consideration in the Cavan/Monaghan study area. There were a number of urban areas near the proposed route such as Carrickmacross, Castleblayney and Ballybay which the engineers attempted to avoid in drawing up the line. He explained why the company proposed to divert the line through County Monaghan.

Regarding the proposed crossing point into Northern Ireland at Lemgare near Clontibret, Mr Cox said the planners had identified the Battle of Clontibret site as a heritage area. Because of the heritage, roadside housing and the high ground there were significant environmental constraints in that area.

Mr Gourley questioned why EirGrid did not decide to identify an alternative line that would run close to the existing interconnector that crossed the border near Crossmaglen in South Armagh. He appreciated that there had to be separation between the lines but said the company had not given robust consideration to an alternative.

Mr Cox said he was satisfied EirGrid had considered the options at strategic level and that the options were dealt with. But Mr Gourley repeated that no consideration had been given to an alternative border crossing and said Monaghan County Council was not satisfied on this issue. The response from Mr Cox was that EirGrid had considered the alternatives and “we’re satisfied it (the line) can’t avoid Monaghan”.

CO. MONAGHAN ANTI PYLON COMMITTEE

Nigel Hillis of the County Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee said they did not speak or give any evidence on this subject at the previous oral hearing in 2010. They were not experts on transmission systems or interconnectors, indeed how could they be expected to be, nor did the committee have the funds to employ any such experts. They had to approach this module from a discrete prospective and glean whatever knowledge from published documents such as relevant technical studies and public records of meetings.

He reminded the inspectors about the history of the project, pointing out that formal discussions about increased cross-border transmission reinforcement between Northen Ireland Electricity and ESB-NG started around 2001 and culminated in December 2005 with a joint decision paper entitled: ‘Additional North South Interconnector Selection of Preferred Option’.

Out of five options, the preferred route was stated as Kingscourt in Co. Cavan to Drumkee near Coalisland in Co. Tyrone. This was the least cost option which complied with the criteria for additional interconnection:

  • increase transfer capability significantly in both directions;
  • the additional interconnector must avoid situations where a single event could lead to system separation.

The report did not decide on the voltage or whether the line would be single or double circuit. The final recommendation was to go for a 400kV single circuit at 900MW capacity having the potential to expand to 1500MW at any time in future if the demand was there. It was to be linked into the planned Dublin to North East 400kV line utilising the planned substation at Kingscourt. So what started out in reality as two different projects for different needs then joined up at the proposed Kingscourt substation.

Mr Hillis said all the alternatives considered to that point in time were for traditional overhead lines. He said no information could be found that undergrounding was in any way considered. “I do not believe it even entered their heads – although I am absolutely open to correction by EirGrid on that. And as we know an overhead 400kV line along three alternative routes in Monaghan, not sure how many in Meath, was presented to the public at the end of 2007”.

There was then a massive public outcry and immediate calls to underground the line to the extent that forced the Energy Minister at the time Eamonn Ryan to commission an independent report into undergrounding early in 2008. The report by German energy systems consultants ECOFYS report ‘Study on the comparative merits of overhead electricity transmission lines versus underground cables’ never really gained much traction and like a lot of government reports it ended up on the high shelf gathering dust. There seemed to be general dissatisfaction with it in all quarters, according to Mr Hillis.

QUARRY OWNER SAYS N.E. TREATED UNJUSTLY

A local quarry owner, Phil Connolly from Carrickamore, Corduff, Carrickmacross, explained that he had land in the route corridor and his dwelling is 200m above sea level and 500m from the proposed line. His quarry is 100m from the corridor. “We will be able to view, at a conservative estimate, twenty (proposed) pylons from our holding”, he said.

LACK OF ALTERNATIVE ROUTE CORRIDORS

He said this was a totally new application for a project from Tyrone to Meath and differed greatly from the 2009 application.

“Critically this new application does not contain a sub-station in Cavan at all. Why? Is it piece meal development or will it likely, never be required at all? If it’s the first it’s wrong in planning, if it’s the latter it would have opened up this project to a far greater choice of options for area and route selection.”

*The needs outlined for the 2009 application are totally changed in the second.

*There is no strengthening of the network locally as previously stated.

*An expert independent commission has reported in 2011 that undergrounding, using D.C., is feasible for the project.

Therefore, starting with Stage 1., of Eirgrids development and consultation road map, this new project warrants a whole new scoping and appraisal of firstly the study area, then route corridors and then preferred route corridor. Not a re-evaluation of old obsolete and discredited information.

Did Eirgrid consult with stakeholders on routes B and C in Monaghan and Cavan for this new application? No! Simply put, no consultation was carried out for this project in the three corridors.

To compound matters the so called consultation carried out in 2007 is generally considered to be useless and totally inadequate. It only lasted for a few short months over the Christmas period. My first knowledge of the project and experience of meeting with Eirgrid representatives was at a public meeting in late 2007 in Monaghan town. I had stated that I would allow Eirgrid to access my land to carry out undergrounding of the lines but that I certainly would not want them on my lands to erect overhead lines. An Eirgrid representative then told me and my then teenage family that QUOTE “We will come in the front door of your home and out the back door if we have the need and you won’t be able to stop us.” That was the level of consultation we received.

Stage 2 of the road map is to “consider all feedback from Stage 1” and is based on nine year-old consultation from a different project! Again to put it in perspective, if I was to apply to MCC for planning on my quarry using 2007 consultation reports I would be laughed at.

How many people have emigrated, passed away, moved house, might be affected by Community Gain or changed their views in nine years on routes B and C? How many people on lines B and C routes know that it is all one project now? Not two sections? No sub-station in Kingscourt? That undergrounding is feasible?

This application is like building a house with no foundations. No matter what amount of cement you put in the walls it will still sink.  All those tables covered with folders are useless if the basics are wrong. It is impossible to choose a preferred route corridor without consultation with all three corridors.

ROUTE CORRIDOR SELECTION

When you examine this old route constraints report 2006/07 you will find; no consistent, transparent or reliable method was used in Route Corridor Selection and it contains many inaccuracies, for example; In county Meath a 10% difference in route length resulted in a negative rating for that route, while in Monaghan a 10% difference in route length was ignored. WHY?

Cultural Heritage: The red line in Monaghan, is identified as having the greatest impact on cultural heritage however they then enter a bizarre paragraph in an attempt to neutralise this. “There is a possibility that those sites that are directly impacted may in fact not be, and vice versa those sites which are indirectly impacted may actually be directly impacted”. It’s like a line straight out of a farcical comedy. What use is that?

Land Use: In their calculation of the number of dwellings, AOS states that their findings are “subject to erroneous data”, “by no means definite” and only an “approximate idea”. Route selection should not have been chosen using this type of unreliable data.

Visual impact: Examination of their data shows that the main difference, incorrectly given, between both routes is the medium to high assessment given to the 8km stretch of the B route where it crosses the R178 and the low assessment given to the similar stretch of the A route where it crosses the R178. Why did the B route get this high rating? What visual receptors were used? In this section of the B route there are no areas of population, scenic routes or lakes affected and as they were unsure of the number of dwellings within 100 meters then it is reasonable to assume that they had no acceptably accurate assessment of how many dwellings there were within the 1km wide corridor or further away. This section of the A route, on the other hand, is clearly visible for miles from the R178. I believe a proper independent assessment would show route A to have a greater visible impact along the R178. It is also in close proximity to 2 churches, a factory and a number of dwellings. The simple fact is that Route A if visible from a far greater length of the R178 than Route B.

Economic Impacts: With regards route selection in the EIS (section 5.3), Existing quarries, in County Meath route A gets a blue rating for Trim quarry located 0.8km and Keegans quarry 0.3 km away from this indicative route. In relation to County Monaghan it gives no negative rating on any of the three routes for existing quarries.

I own a substantial quarry at Carrickamore, Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan. It is within 0.1 km of route A, the selected route. It was not mentioned nor taken into account but should obviously have resulted in a blue rating for route A if there was any consistency in the methodology used. Furthermore it bizarrely states that there are 12 quarries within 6km of all three routes. I would like them to name these quarries in all 3 cases as this information is substantially wrong.

These are just a sample of the inaccuracies. Did the re-evaluation report correct these and factor in correct data to enable their choice of preferred route?? The re-evaluation report is just a useless paper exercise, this application still relies on 10 year old incorrect, ancient data.

In 2012 Eirgrid announced 2 new 400kv projects i.e. Grid Link, 300km and Grid West which is 100km long, similar to this project. When you look at “needs and justification “outlined by Eirgrid for these projects, you will see they are very similar in a lot of ways to this project.

  1. The existing transmission infrastructure in the two regions needs substantial investment.
  2. To facilitate wind energy development
  3. To meet E.U. targets
  4. Will help all regions to attract the type of industry that requires a secure high voltage supply

Up to 2014 they had progressed both projects the same as this one and had 3 route corridors for overhead lines chosen. In Grid West there was an emerging preferred route. The only major difference being that the consultation was carried out with the public at a far earlier stage and to a far greater extent than this project.

As with this project, undergrounding was put forward by the affected stakeholders and the reasons given by EirGrid for not considering it as follows:

  1. It does not deliver future flexibility/ extendibility.
  2. It does not deliver same security/ reliability of supply when compared with overhead A/C.
  3. It causes additional operational difficulties
  4. It is untried and untested as part of an integrated A/C network
  5. It would be cost prohibitive to tap in or avail of the power in D/C line

And on these grounds it was not feasible.

UNDER GROUNDING MUST BE PART OF PROPOSAL

IN January 2014 due to local and regional pressure in the West and South from public who were now aware of the massive long term impacts of overhead pylons, Minister Rabbitt set up an independent expert panel (I.E.P.) to look into both projects.

The panel’s terms of reference were for a  “comprehensive, route specific studies/ report of fully undergrounding and overhead options for both projects including assessments of potential environmental impacts, technical efficiency and cost factors.”

Then later that year the Minister, after pressure from local politicians in this area, reluctantly asked the same group to give an opinion on this project just to see if the compatibility of the methodologies to be employed on the North South link compare with those on Grid Link and Grid West, critically, up to May 2nd 2014

This consisted of the panel, on May 7th, asking EirgGid to submit an assessment of the extent to which in EirGrids view, the methodologies used were compatible. So we get EirGrids view on how EirGrid was carrying out the three projects. We didn’t need an expert panel to answer that question at that stage as EirGrid had progressed Grid West to an emerging preferred route stage for pylons and undergrounding was not considered as feasible.

When EirGrid quote the findings of the I.E.P. several times in the application that the compatibility of the methodologies used were the same in Grid link and Grid West as the North South, it means nothing. Only that at that stage of the projects, 2nd May 2014, they had treated the people of the West and South somewhat like they had treated us.

The I.E.P. then, in July 2014, got involved in both Grid West and Grid Link projects, using this wide terms of reference for the studies/reports and overseen Eirgrid carry them out. Then everything changed. In Grid Link by October 2014 Eirgrid had dropped plans for a 400kv line and put forward a new plan, with no new poles. As the I.E.P described it “But a new option” not previously known or anticipated by the panel.

In Grid West the I.E.P. report allows for undergrounding and overhead options to be compared against each other, hence a new underground feasible option that would cost just twice the amount of overhead lines is part of this projects proposal. The compatibility of the methodologies used would not have been the same if they were compared in September 2015.

Reading the I.E.P report it clearly shows me and hopefully An Bord Pleanala that:

  1. EirGrid changed everything when they were challenged by a body with the right Terms of Reference
  2. Underground D/C is feasible, even in the middle of a small total A/C network, at twice the cost, when you identify a proper route.

This is totally at odds with what EirGrid states in this application.

  1. When the general population who are directly affected and become aware of the massive long term impacts of overhead lines on their region, they are rightly, totally opposed to them.

So it’s not just us in the North East.

  1. Technical, costs and other excuses or reasons put forward by Eirgrid don’t stand up to expert scrutiny
  2. That we here in the North East are being treated unjustly and that a proper, realistic and definite underground D/C alternative solution must be part of this proposal from an early stage. I believe, with this standard of alternative, not made available in this application that it doesn’t meet planning regulations. There is a genuine, reasonable, workable, cost effective, alternative option proven to be available.

We deserve and demand to be treated with equality. This expert group should have been given the same terms of reference as Grid Link and Grid West.

The review from the international expert commission in 2011 confirmed what we had said at the last oral hearing. That is, that a high voltage D/C solution is a feasible option for this project and that it would not cost anywhere near the 10-20 times extra that Eirgrid has wrongly been touting for years. The report also quotes Gridlink report from 2009 that states technical difficulties can be overcome and that this will be the 2nd all Ireland interconnector and this makes balancing power etc. very possible. Even the C.A.O at Eirgrid has, under pressure, recently admitted that D/C is a feasible option.

I have been a self-employed business man all my adult life. I am very much in favour of progress and development to benefit our communities and our country. I also believe in peoples’ rights to be treated equally and fairly. With regards to this project, the Stakeholders of the North East have not been given the same regard as those in the West and South. We have been subjected to miss information, wrong information, wrong data, cost exaggerations and poor consultation for 8 years.

The I.E.P. did EirGrid a favour when they forced change in Grid West and Grid Link. Both these projects will likely progress quickly without prolonged aggravation for the people of the regions and long term damage to the countryside. I believe at this point that this application should be suspended and an expert group taken in. They should be given the similar terms of reference as the I.E.P. This would save this community many more years of aggravation and indeed save EirGrid time and money

NEPPC

POREILLY.JPG

Padraig O’Reilly  NEPPC  Pic: Michael Fisher

Padraig O’Reilly of the NEPPC claimed EirGrid had failed to consider objectively all realistic alternatives. There was also a failure by the government and Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to ensure an objective examination of realistic alternatives. From 2007 onwards EirGrid had made policy statements about an overhead line. Their initial statements on undergrounding had been misleading and they then made reluctant concessions to examine ‘the barriers to undergrounding’. They claimed incorrectly to have examined realistic options.

Mr O’Reilly said no real examination of changes in the marketplace had occurred and there was no allowance for the reduced need in the market. He pointed out that underground cable technology was advancing rapidly, with a progressive reduction in costs. It was of proven reliability, producing no electric field. It was being used increasingly in other countries. There were no issues surrounding health, devaluation of property, agriculture, noise, tourism or the landscape.

According to the NEPPC, up to this day an appropriate high voltage DC underground cable alternative along public roads had never been identified, consulted on or costed.

EIRGRID RESPONSE

The company confirmed the cost of the proposed line from Woodland in Co. Meath through Cavan and Monaghan to Turleenan in Co. Tyrone would be €286 million, consisting of construction expenditure and compensation to landowners. An EirGrid representative told the inquiry he would have a look at getting a breakdown of the figures but that he couldn’t see what that had to do with alternatives.

The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign and Co. Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee pressed EirGrid on why an environmental impact statement regarding the proposed infrastructure had not considered and costed an underground alternative. A consultant brought in by EirGrid said in response to their questions a high voltage DC underground cable was certainly a possibility.

Padraig O’Reilly of NEPPC asked again if the possibility of placing such cables alongside public roads had been considered. He said there was a serious deficiency in the company’s application as such an analysis was not included. But consultant engineer Dr Norman MacLeod responded that considerable excavation would be required for underground cabling. It would require either two trenches on one side of the road or one trench on either side and the verges would have to be dug up and the large swathe along the 135km route would have to be protected.

Aidan Geoghegan of EirGrid said Ireland’s local and regional roads were simply not wide enough to accommodate such construction.