News Analysis

Sunday 31 August 2014

Caitriona Murphy: Pylon plan a PR nightmare for EirGrid and politicians

Caitriona Murphy

Published 06/01/2014 | 02:30

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Catriona Murphy

So EirGrid is expected to delay choosing a final route for its controversial €500m Grid Link project until after the local elections in May.

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Quelle surprise. Local politicians have been getting it in the neck ever since the public first became aware of the EirGrid plan to erect 750 high-rise pylons across Munster and Leinster and their chances of re-election have been shrinking every day.

Joe Public might have been powerless to prevent the punishing austerity regime imposed on him by Ireland's economic meltdown but the prospect of having a 45 metre-high metal monstrosity erected in front of his kitchen window was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Thousands of Irish people were galvanised into action by the thoughts of a huge high-voltage line strung across the rural landscape, and anti-pylon groups sprung up in local communities like mushrooms in the early morning dew.

Local politicians, often able to secure a few votes on a road by getting the potholes filled in or a drain dug, have been unable to make any such promises about moving the ugly pylons planned for their area.

EirGrid's approach to the Grid Link project has been a PR nightmare from the very beginning.

Notices in local and national media and information roadshows staged by the company went largely unnoticed by the public. It was only when the five possible routes were published that local people along the proposed 1km-wide corridors reacted.

Their reaction was one of indignation, disbelief and horror at the thought of enormous metal structures punctuating what is widely regarded as the most productive and scenic areas of the country.

Grid Link is just one of four high-voltage lines planned by EirGrid, with a 100km line planned for Grid West, a 140km line planned linking Meath and Tyrone and another 26km traversing Laois and Kilkenny. However, the 750 pylons included in the Munster/Leinster plan traverse some of the most densely populated counties of rural Ireland.

While there is a good chance that some pylons in sparsely populated parts of Co Mayo could go unnoticed by all except the locals, a series of metal towers strung across the Golden Vale in Tipperary or bisecting the spectacularly beautiful Mahon Falls area of Waterford would be seen by thousands of visitors and locals alike.

EirGird's selection of five possible routes for the Grid Link pylons has also left a bitter taste in the mouths of objectors.

There has been a 'divide and conquer' feel to the EirGrid approach, with community groups on one route all hoping to be louder and more visible than objectors on another route in the hope that the path of least resistance would be chosen.

But two things have incensed local communities more than anything. The first is that EirGrid does not have to conform to the usual local planning permission rules that everybody does when planning much smaller and less obtrusive construction works such as family homes or garages.

Without a planning permission lodged with the local county council, there has been no way for people on the route to make their feelings known except through their local politicians. There is nothing like potentially losing votes to make a politician sit up and take notice.

The second major aspect of the EirGrid plan that has infuriated objectors is the thought that they could have pylons built in their backyards -- not to power their own TVs and kettles but to be exported to Britain and France, where the locals can enjoy pylon-free power.

If EirGrid does delay the Grid Link project, the company is effectively admitting that it was failing to win the battle prior to the May elections. But will it be any more successful post-May?

Irish Independent

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