Saturday 21 September 2019

Protesters to fight power line that will knock €20m off bills

Eirgrid CEO Fintan Slye Photo: Maxwell Photography
Eirgrid CEO Fintan Slye Photo: Maxwell Photography
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Legal action could delay or halt construction of a €288m high-voltage power line between Meath and Tyrone granted planning permission following an 11-week public inquiry.

A campaign group which claims to represent 45,000 people says that plans to build the 138km North-South Interconnector will be subject to judicial review, and called for politicians to insist the lines were buried underground to avoid impact on the landscape.

The power line involves 299 pylons, some of them up to 51 metres high, being erected across Cavan, Monaghan and Meath, and was subject to some 900 submissions during an a public hearing earlier this year.

An Bord Pleanála has granted permission to national grid operator EirGrid to build the line, which will take up to three years to complete. Work cannot begin until a 35km section in Northern Ireland is approved. A public hearing will take place on this section in February.

The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign (NEPPC) said the board's decision was an "affront" to the democratic process and warned that legal action was likely both in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

"NEPPC is calling on all elected representatives to seek a solution to the impending impasse and conflict," it said. "Time still exists for EirGrid to be directed to do the right thing and underground the project.

"The landowners and local communities are disgusted with how they have been treated for the past 10 years. If An Bord Pleanála thinks there will be no repercussions in terms of integrity of the planning process from this decision, then they are gravely mistaken. If political action is not taken, this project will make the Shell to Sea debacle look like a walk in the park."

The interconnector allows electricity to flow north and south, and was part of the €3.2bn Grid25 project launched in October 2008. Permission was sought in December 2009, but withdrawn the following June, before a fresh application was lodged in June last year.

In its decision, the board said it had regard to the benefits of integrating both electricity grids, national policy and the potential impact on the environment. It agreed with its inspector's recommendation that permission be granted, subject to nine conditions, including a requirement to appoint agriculture liaison officers to work with landowners and to undertake a monitoring programme for the whooper swan.

The project is required because EirGrid, which is also responsible for the Northern Irish network, has said there was just one interconnector between both jurisdictions, with analysis suggesting this adds around €20m per year to customer bills. Undergrounding the line could add €500m to costs.

"We're delighted with the decision," EirGrid chief executive Fintan Slye said. "We recognise it's one of the two consents we need, but in the interim, we have the opportunity to continue and redouble our efforts and engage with local landowners and community groups."

He added that EirGrid hoped to secure the land needed to construct the pylons by agreement, and avoid use of compulsory purchase order powers.

The line will run from Woodland, Co Meath, to Turleenan, Co Tyrone, and opposition centred on concerns including health, impact on the landscape, animal welfare and agriculture and biodiversity. Chambers Ireland said the project was essential to maintain economic growth, but the Irish Farmers' Association said it "ignored" concerns.

Irish Independent

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