Saturday 1 October 2016

Equine industry whips up pressure over pylon plans

Breeders and trainers fear wind farms will wreck Ireland's €2bn industry, writes Joanna Kiernan

Published 05/04/2015 | 02:30

Racehorse trainer Jessica Harrington in her yard with Ronnie Woods Sandymount Duke.
Racehorse trainer Jessica Harrington in her yard with Ronnie Woods Sandymount Duke.

Irish racing will pay a last tribute to the best jockey of the lot as AP McCoy dons his racing silks for the last time in Ireland in the Grand National meeting at Fairyhouse tomorrow.

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A bumper crowd will fondly remember the astonishing achievements of the great AP at a meeting that will generate some €4m for the local economy.

But nostalgia and some sadness at the last days in the saddle for the king of National Hunt will inevitably turn to other matters.

Opposition to wind farms and pylons is intensifying in the breeding and training yards.

And the broader equine sports of showjumping and three-day eventing have joined forces with horse racing to oppose plans for a necklace of pylons and wind farms across the prime horse production belts in Munster and Leinster.

EirGrid chiefs have now acknowledged that pylons may not be necessary to upgrade the power infrastructure in the Grid Link region, but resistance to the plans continues to grow throughout rural Ireland, particularly within the powerful horse industry.

A strategy document published by EirGrid last week appeared to give hope to residents along the proposed Grid Link pylon routes, who oppose the plans for hundreds of 400 kV power-lines, stretching from Knockraha in Cork and into Dunstown in Kildare.

In the document, energy chiefs admit that while overhead power-lines remain the 'most appropriate' solution for the North-South interconnector, other projects such as Grid Link may be possible without the controversial pylons. However, Grid Link's strongest opponents, who include some of the biggest names in the equine industry here, remain dubious and suspicious.

With many key studs and horse facilities along the proposed pylon corridors, the equine world is staunchly opposed to the Grid Link pylon plans, as well as a number of separate plans for the erection of wind turbines throughout the country.

Irish Olympic Event rider Camilla Speirs' home lies in the middle of one of EirGrid's three proposed pylon corridors in Kildare.

"My horses sense pylons and they panic," Camilla explained. "Should these pylons go ahead here, they'll be right outside my home, maybe even on the land, and that is going to seriously affect my horses 24/7, not to mention my business. It would be devastating."

Legendary trainer Jessica Harrington is also opposed to the overhead power-lines.

"I'm not in any of the proposed pylon corridors, but whichever of three ways the route might go, I will see those pylons from my gallops," said Harrington.

"Ahead of Cheltenham, I had about 30 Press people over from England, out on those gallops and they were looking at it and saying: 'Oh my god, this is the most beautiful place!' I get people from all over the world who come here and they cannot believe that we can live in a place that is so unspoilt."

Harrington's Commonstown Racing Stables near Moone in Kildare, is also sandwiched between three proposed pylon routes for the area.

"If these pylons go up across any of these proposed routes, it will ruin the countryside," she added. "Our heritage will be swept away. What are the future generations going to say when they find out that we let them put these pylons up when (A), there is a question as to whether we really need them and (B), they could put them underground?"

In January 2014, EirGrid committed to conducting a detailed analysis into undergrounding the Grid Link Project. The company expects to publish options for both the best underground and best over-ground routes later this year.

However, with names like the Willie Mullins-trained PylonThePressure and the Adrian Maguire-trained Knockraha Pylon appearing on the race card at Cheltenham this year, it is clear the horse racing and breeding industry is acutely aware of the threat.

Last month, Goffs Bloodstock Sales and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeding Association (ITBA) hosted a briefing session for 60 industry leaders who heard the views of economist Colm McCarthy and energy expert Malcolm Brown. Industry members plan to meet in the coming weeks to formulate an official and collectively-agreed policy.

"The ITBA and indeed the bloodstock industry are not opposed to Ireland's commitments to meet its renewable energy generation goals," said Shane O'Dwyer of the ITBA. "However, we oppose insensitively-sited structures impacting negatively on the safe operation of thoroughbred studs, stables and training yards and, as a result, threaten the viability of the thoroughbred industry nationally."

The combined equine industry in Ireland is worth €2 billion to the Irish economy, employs 28,000 people directly and is believed to contribute indirectly to the household incomes of more than 58,000 people.

Opposition to the Grid Link project has been fierce along the proposed routes, particularly in Kildare, which may be criss-crossed by a number of overhead lines running into the Dunstown power station at the centre of the county.

"EirGrid have announced a new option for Grid Link that will please the many people," said Fine Gael TD for Kildare South, Martin Heydon, welcoming EirGrid's strategic document.

"In short, it involves the upgrading of the existing transmission lines using innovative new technology never used before in Ireland, rather than building new lines," he said.

Sunday Independent

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