EIRGRID has admitted that it “could have done things better” when it was planning the controversial construction of high-voltage power lines across the State.
Chief executive Fintan Slye said alternative underground proposals should not have been dismissed at an early stage of planning, and that both over and underground options would be considered for all projectscurrently being proposed. “There’s definitely things we learnt where we could have potentially done things better,” he said.
He also backed his chairman John O’Connor, who previously said he would not want to live next to a pylon. Mr Slye himself acknowledged those who feel they have a “visual impact on the landscape”.
EirGrid plans to erect almost 500km of high-voltage powers lines as part of an upgrade of the national grid, but critics want the bulk of the lines placed underground.
The Government has recently announced an expert group to help decide if undergrounding is technically feasible and affordable, but it won’t report back until later in the year.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Slye candidly admitted that the national grid operator “obviously didn’t do a good job” explaining to communities that the power lines would not be used to help export power from large-scale windfarms proposed for the midlands.
The upgrade of the national grid had “nothing” to do with the export farms, but they “kind of got mixed up in people’s minds”, he said. “That made the debate more difficult.”
Mr Slye said that lessons had been learnt, despite a “huge” public consultation process. Some 35,000 submissions alone were made for one project, Grid Link, which runs from Cork to Kildare via Wexford.
“One thing that has come up now is should we have taken the underground study – it was screened out at an early stage.
“It was only when we put the lines on the maps and we started talking to people about the routes that it got the traction in the communities, in a very negative way I have to say.
“There never really was that debate about those other options there. One of the things that we’ve learnt is, and we’re doing it now, is that we’re going to take the underground option and develop it side by side with an overhead option and have that stage in the consultation.
“They (the people) wanted to understand undergrounding more, why it was screened out and what was the pros and cons of it. We’ve committed to doing that.”
The comments come after company chairman John O’Connor sparked controversy by admitting he personally would not like to live beside a pylon.
Mr Slye backed his chairman and said that admission showed “integrity and honesty”.
“I think in part it showed the integrity and honesty of the man that he answered the question that he was asked,” he said.
“He didn’t try to evade it. There are a large number of people there who don’t want to live close to a pylon. They are a visual impact on the landscape.”
But he added: “As a country and a society, we need to work out what’s the process by which we build these things. Building large infrastructure in Ireland has a history of being difficult, and not just the pylons.
“We had it with roads, with mobile-phone masts, and the Corrib (gas field) had a very difficult period.
“I think we need to come to a view, as a society, what is the process that we go through, (where) the public knows, and communities know, this is where I can engage, this is how I can influence, and this is what’s going to happen. And developers similarly know these are the stages that it’s going to go through.
“I think we need to get to a point where there’s a process that’s accepted by society in its widest context.”