Eirgrid shows height of arrogance
Anti-pylon campaigners face legal bill after €7m blunder forces power firm to abandon plan
Published 04/07/2010 | 05:00
The €7m blunder by Eirgrid about the height of electricity pylons that forced the firm to sensationally withdraw its planning application for a north/south interconnector could leave opponents of the plan with a huge legal bill.
The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign (NEPPC), which represents more than 45,000 people in counties Monaghan, Meath and Cavan who favour underground cables as an alternative to pylons and overhead lines, claims Eirgrid has dragged out the proceedings of the statutory public hearing in the knowledge that the company has "bottomless pockets filled with taxpayers' money" to pay its team of high-powered lawyers.
At the same time, opponents of the plan are funded by voluntary donations from the people of the counties affected.
Now the next battle for groups campaigning against the plan will be to secure their legal costs for the botched oral hearing, which had to be abandoned last week.
It is understood that Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Eamon Ryan is furious about the error.
An Eirgrid spokesman said: "This error was discovered by a local councillor on the 21st day of the hearing. It was a human error, which we very much regret and a review will take place to find out what went wrong."
Asked if Eirgrid would now meet the legal bills of the opponents of the plan, he added that An Bord Pleanala would be accepting legal submissions in relation to the costs and they would not comment further until that process had been completed.
Eirgrid's planning application stated that the maximum pylon height of the Meath-Tyrone interconnector would be 37 metres -- but it emerged at a public meeting in Monaghan last week that some of the pylons could be 44 metres high.
Last Tuesday, the company said it had "no option" but to write to An Bord Pleannala to notify it of the withdrawal of the application.
It said there was no mechanism for amending the existing application to tidy up the "inadvertent error" but that it would make a fresh application as soon as possible.
But opponents of the interconnector plan, who want electricity lines run underground instead of on overhead pylons, said they would fight on, whatever the outcome in relation to costs.
"The withdrawal of the application by Eirgrid is an assault on democracy by the State," said Aimee Treacy, chairperson of the NEPPC.
They called on Mr Ryan to demand that Eirgrid, in the interests of effective public consultation, pay all of the "reasonable costs" related to the oral hearing of those who were opposed to the company's application.
The decision to adjourn the hearing was taken at 6pm last Monday by An Bord Pleanala inspector Mary Cuneen following nearly three hours of legal arguments.
Luan O Braonan, SC representing Eirgrid, said that his client accepted that the heights of the electricity pylons as published in the press ranged from 21 metres to 37 metres high, and not 21 to 44 metres high, as was described in the energy company's planning application drawings.
Mr O Braonan said this was due to an error by a consultant employed by Eirgrid.
In his submission, Colm Mc Eochaidh SC, representing Monaghan Anti Pylon Pressure Ltd, said his clients would be looking for costs.
The matter of costs was also raised by Esmond Keane, who was representing the NEPPC.
Eirgrid has already spent up to €7m on the planning proposal and the blunder could set the project back for at least a year -- if a new application succeeds.
"It is true that €7m has been spent since the project was initiated in 2006 but most of this work would be used again in the new application so was not a loss," an Eirgrid spokesman said.
Eirgrid said it remained committed to the development of this project, which is vital for the region and for consumers in the Republic of Ireland and the North.