Sunday 25 February 2018

Pylon firms to share 'connector' €3m bonus

Communities oppose incentive package from energy regulator

Fintan Slye
Fintan Slye


THE semi-State companies behind Ireland's controversial pylon project could be in line for a €3m bonus for pushing through the North-South interconnector.

The energy regulator has proposed paying EirGrid a €300,000 bonus for lodging planning permission for the North-South interconnector on time and a share of a €3m bonus if power is switched on by 2017.

The proposal has been challenged by communities opposed to the project, one of three major electricity infrastructure developments planned by EirGrid.

The North-South interconnector which will connect the Republic's electricity grid with Northern Ireland's was excluded from the independent review of undergrounding the electricity infrastructure projects announced by the Government last week.

The decision was described as "deeply unfair and discriminatory" by the anti-pylon group, North East Pylon Pressure yesterday.

The group has further challenged the regulator's proposal to effectively pay EirGrid for pushing the North East pylon project through speedily.

In a consultation paper, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has suggested a €3.3m incentive package, with €300,000 going to EirGrid for getting its planning application in by the end of 2013 and €3m to be shared between EirGrid and ESB Networks for "project energisation" by the end of 2017.

The regulator also proposes penalties of €100,000 a quarter if EirGrid fails to meet its planning target deadline.

"We feel it is not ethical or correct of the energy regulator to offer incentives or indeed impose heavy penalties for lodgement of the planning application or the delivery of the North-South interconnector," said spokesman Padraig O'Reilly. "We as taxpayers are strongly opposed to taxpayers' money being used in such circumstances."

Solicitors for the group wrote to the CER last month to raise its objections.

The CER said it had not made a final decision on the proposal but that incentives were offered in the energy sector to improve efficiency to benefit customers.

In a consultation paper, it said the delays to introducing the North-South interconnector were costing electricity consumers €20m a year because of increased production costs and this could rise to €30m-€40m.

EirGrid said the money in the proposed incentive scheme for the North-South interconnector would not be used to pay performance bonuses to staff but would "flow through" the company accounts.

While the chief executive, Fintan Slye, who earns €170,000 a year, does not receive performance related pay, some staff earned average bonuses last year of around eight per cent of their salaries.

The North-South interconnector is at an advanced stage with EirGrid preparing to submit its planning application within weeks.However, there is growing disquiet over the exclusion of the North-South interconnector from the independent review of undergrounding high voltage power lines announced by Pat Rabbitte, the Minister for Energy, last Tuesday.

The commission is examining underground alternatives to two proposed overhead high-voltage networks requiring hundreds of pylons, one from Kildare to Cork, the other through north Connacht.

Under pressure from Fine Gael backbenches, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he wanted the North-South interconnector included in the review.

Mr Rabbitte raised it at a meeting on Friday with the chairwoman of the expert panel Catherine McGuinness, a former Supreme Court judge.

North East pylon pressure said the "excuses being peddled" for excluding the North-South interconnector were "misleading and disingenuous" and would "deepen the extreme sense of distrust" and with the Government.

EirGrid also announced a "community gain" fund to compensate communities which will add five per cent to the cost of the North-South interconnector.

EirGrid will pay:

{HTML_BULLET} €40,000 per kilometre for communities "in proximity" to 400kv pylons. The money will be handed over to local authorities once the line is completed.

{HTML_BULLET} €30,000 one-off cash payment for those living within 50 metres of a 400kv power line, reducing to €21,666 at 100 metres and €5,000 for those living at 200 metres. EirGrid said there are only two houses currently within 50 metres of high-voltage power lines.

Irish Independent

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