Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Government must listen to rural objectors as pylon conflict builds

Catriona Murphy
Catriona Murphy
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Last year, the McHale family from Currabaggan near Ballina in Co Mayo set about building a house for their special needs brother. They wanted a modest three-bedroom bungalow where Michael James could live and be cared for close to his family home.

Mayo County Council granted planning permission for the house subject to six conditions, which included direction on the height of the bungalow's roof and the septic tank system installed. The family met every one of the council's conditions and Michael James's house is now finally ready for him to move in.

On October 7, the McHale family were informed for the very first time that EirGrid planned to run its 400kv electricity line through the property. The view from Michael James's brand new kitchen window will be of a 45m-high pylon located 100m away.

The pylon does not require planning permission from Mayo County Council because it is part of the €3.2bn upgrade of the electrical network that is deemed to be of strategic national importance, which means it goes straight to An Bord Pleanála.

It is this by-passing of local and individual concerns that has infuriated rural dwellers in Co Mayo and every county affected by EirGrid's proposed network of high voltage lines and metal pylons.

The scale of the upgrade is so immense that it has been divided into four individual proposals.

Grid Link involves over 250km of high voltage lines held up by 750 massive pylons, running through Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Laois, Carlow, Wicklow, Kildare and Dublin.

Grid West would have 100km of line and 300 pylons running through Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim. The Meath-Tyrone line would have 140km of line and 410 pylons linking Meath, Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone, while the Laois-Kilkenny line would run for 26km and include 80 pylons.

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Objections to the pylons and high voltage line are many and varied, ranging from allegations that the line could have health implications for those living nearby, to the potential devaluation of houses and farms and the potentially enormous cost to the clean and green image the Irish countryside has among food buyers and tourists abroad.

But on top of these genuine concerns, opposition groups have become increasingly infuriated by what is seen as EirGrid's patronising attitude towards objectors.

ICMSA president John Comer accused the company and the Government of treating the pylon network as a "done deal" that the "poor culchies are just going to have to deal with".

"EirGrid just have to pretend to be listening to those people and nodding sympathetically while all the time, their bulldozers and pile-drivers are revving up their engines impatiently," maintained Mr Comer.

EirGrid's electrical upgrade, we are told, is of national importance in order to attract foreign direct investment to areas outside of Dublin.

But the majority of objectors to the plan are not against the upgrade per se – instead they want to see the cables buried underground instead of carried on ugly metal structures marching through the countryside.

So far, the argument from EirGrid and the Government against undergrounding is that it would make the project significantly more expensive and increase the cost of electricity for everyone, although exact figures have not been forthcoming.

There are other aspects to the debate

* Is this network of high rise pylons and high voltage cables being installed to facilitate the enormous wind farms planned for the midlands and the west?

* Is this wind energy going to be of any use to Irish citizens or simply exported to Britain and France to help those countries meet their renewable energy targets without any of the valuable carbon credits being accrued to Ireland?

* In fact, once these wind farms are operational will there be any further jobs given that these sites can be controlled remotely.

Like an aircraft carrier on the edge of the ocean, will Ireland be used as a base for farms that harvest the North Atlantic's winds without getting any of the benefits and having to endure the downsides of the infrastructure, such as the giant wind farms and the new EirGrid network.

Who will benefit most from this electrical upgrade – the ordinary people, on whose land the ugly pylons will be built, or the well-heeled owners of private wind farms cashing in on Britain's growing demand for energy?

EirGrid's plans have stoked up vociferous opposition and a passion among rural dwellers that has not been seen for a long time.

Opposition groups across Ireland are gathering momentum by the day. The Government cannot bury its head in the sand for much longer.

Irish Independent