Tuesday 10 December 2019

Blow to link after ESB's 'error' on pylon height

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

The ESB is to blame for the collapse of the planning application for a €200m electricity interconnector project -- because it couldn't get the height of the pylons right.

A review had been set up to discover who was responsible for the "human error" in the public planning permission notice for the new interconnector between Meath and Tyrone.

The official notice said the pylons (towers) to carry the electricity lines ranged in height from 21 metres to 37 metres. The true figure was 21-44m.

And when this was pointed out last June by Fine Gael councillor Owen Bannigan after 21 days of oral hearings into the planning application, Eirgrid management had to withdraw the application.

The review was set up by Eirgrid, the state-owned electricity network company, to find out which of the three firms doing consultancy work for the project got the height wrong.

It found the incorrect information was supplied by ESB International (ESBI), a firm fully owned by the ESB.

"The error arose through incorrect information being provided by one of EirGrid's consultants, namely ESBI, and the error was inadvertent, or 'human error'," it said.

ESBI describes itself as "one of Europe's leading engineering and consultancy organisations", building power stations and trading electricity at home and abroad.

Before the public notice for the Meath-Tyrone interconnector project was published in December last year, it was checked by people in Eirgrid, ESBI and the two other consultancy firms employed -- RPS and Socoin/Tobin.

"The tower height error was not identified in any of these reviews," the review said.

Although Eirgrid has refused to say how much it has spent on the planning process for the interconnector so far, this has been estimated at up to €7m.

Eirgrid said 90pc of the cost would be recoverable because most of the expert reports could be used again.

However, it will have to pay the remaining 10pc of costs again -- for lawyers and expert witnesses to attend the planning hearings on its behalf.

An Eirgrid spokesman said it was putting new procedures and checks in place to ensure the mistake would not be repeated.


A new planning application for the interconnector has not yet been submitted.

So far, Eirgrid has not asked ESBI to pay the extra cost of preparing a second planning application and ESBI itself has made no pledge to pay compensation. The issue had not arisen, an ESBI spokesman said.

Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Eamon Ryan confirmed he had seen a copy of Eirgrid's review.

"It is clearly a matter of concern and disappointment to see that this key strategic infrastructure project will now be delayed as a result of the error," he said.

The review commented on the "somewhat unusual structure" of having three firms work on the preparation of the public notice for the interconnector.

It said this arose because the project originally began as two separate projects which were later joined together.

Irish Independent

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