Electricity Pylons beside a SONI/NIE sub-station in County Antrim  Photo: Michael Fisher

The controversial plan by EirGrid for a North/South high voltage 400 kV electricity interconnector with overhead lines on 400 pylons from Meath to Tyrone is to be the subject of an oral hearing by two inspectors from An Bord Pleanála in early March.

Fianna Fáil Senator Thomas Byrne confirmed that the Board is set to begin public hearing sessions from next March. The hearing is likely to be held over a twelve weeks period in Carrickmacross, where a previous oral hearing took place in May 2010.

Senator Byrne is one of a number of public representatives who are  strongly opposed to the project. He says he will be making a submission to the hearing to outline the serious concerns that residents in Meath have regarding the proposals.

“I’ve long held the view that this project is unworkable. There needs to be community consensus for the project and a far greater emphasis needs to be placed on upgrading existing infrastructure alongside ensuring that the new transmission line is placed underground,” said Senator Byrne.

“People in Meath feel that their concerns have not been taken on board by those pushing this project. They are not being treated equally as the development of new transmission lines in other parts of the country are proceeding with the lines being placed underground. However Meath residents are being told that the North South Interconnector has to be developed over ground. It’s unacceptable.

“Meath residents now have their chance to make their voices heard in relation to these proposals. I’ve been informed by An Bord Pleanála that the public hearing for the project will begin in March. I’ll be making a strong submission outlining why I think the proposals have to be cast aside. I encourage others with similar concerns to make a submission during the public hearings.

“In Fianna Fáil’s energy policy launched this year, we outlined that grid development such as planned under the North South Interconnector should be subject to a full economic review in light of our reduced energy needs. Fianna Fáil maintains that undergrounding the North – South Connector is the most preferential route along with upgrading existing infrastructure and this will form a key part of my submission,” concluded Senator Byrne.

Nigel Hillis of the County Monaghan anti-pylon committee said the fact the oral hearing is to take place has to be welcomed. He said a number of parties would be making a formal oral submission at the hearing. Formal notice of the hearing, including the agenda and the details of venue will be sent to all parties approximately two weeks in advance of the announcement.

In a letter to the 900 interested parties including individuals who made submissions (with a fee of €50) to the planning application submitted by EirGrid in June last year, An Bord Pleanála said that owing to the scale and complexity of the case, and the large number of written submissions received, parties are requested to indicate their intention to make a formal oral submission at the hearing, before 5.30pm on February the 4th.

Eirgrid Statement 

“We welcome An Bord Pleanála’s decision to convene an oral hearing and note that it is likely to commence in early March. Each aspect of this process is managed by An Bord Pleanála. We await further detail from An Board Pleanála with regard to the upcoming oral hearing. Our offices in Carrickmacross, Cootehill and Navan will continue to be open in the coming weeks for anyone who has queries about our application.”

EirGrid’s plans to build the overhead 400kV power line from Woodland in County Meath through parts of Cavan, Monaghan and Armagh to Turleenan near Dungannon in County Tyrone were lodged in June 2015. Observations had to be lodged with the planning authority in Dublin by 5.30pm on Monday 24th August. Over 900 submissions were received and because groups of people got together to lodge a single submission, the names of over 1500 were submitted, most of them opposing the plan and calling for it to be put underground.

Monaghan County Council was one of the prescribed bodies notified of the application.The planning department made a submission to the Board including comments made about the project by Councillors at a meeting. Cavan County Council and Meath County Council were also notified and the Cathaoirligh of each of the three councils including Councillor Noel Keelan of Monaghan have joined together to oppose the plans.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys T.D. was notified along with her Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White T.D. The Environmental Protection Agency, National Roads Authority, An Chomhairle Ealaíon, Fáilte Ireland, An Taisce, The Heritage Council, Irish Aviation Authority, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Health Service Executive, Commission for Energy Regulation, Inland Fisheries Ireland, Iarnród Éireann, Railway Safety Commission, Northern and Western Regional Assembly, Eastern and Midlands Regional Assembly and Irish Water were informed of EirGrid’s plans and given the opportunity to make submissions. Additional notifications were made to Birdwatch Ireland, Irish Peatland Conservation Council, and the North’s Environment Department.

According to the Bord Pleanála website, submissions were received initially from Dominic Halligan T.D. (Meath East, Labour), members of Meath County Council; Michael Halpin; Meath Farm Machinery, Navan; Sean Byrne; Cyril Darcy and family, Robinstown, Kells, Co. Meath; Noel Meade; Eugene Connolly; Fred Smyth; Navan Municipal District Councillors of Meath County Council; Scoil Bláithín Íosa, Ballynagearn N.S., Magheracloone and separately, All Saints National School Doohamlet and Doohamlet Childcare Ltd.; Patricia and Coleman Ryan; Hugh and Bernadette Duffy; Eamonn McNally; Irish Water; Kingscourt Stars GAA Club; Philip Smith; Michael Coleman; Fr Brendan Madden; Meath Cllr Ronan McKenna, Trim (FF); Meath Cllr Damien O’Reilly, Ratoath (FF); Meath Cllr Claire O’Driscoll, Ashbourne (FF); Brendan Doyle and Barbara Doyle; Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly; North and Western Regional Assembly; David Murray; Eugene and Rosemary Cunningham Corlea, Kingscourt; Meath Co Cllr Shane Cassells, Navan (FF).

The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign said it would continue to provide support to all individuals, groups  and organisations willing to make a submission and has been working closely with 97% of landowners who are in complete opposition to the planning application and who favour undergrounding.

When EirGrid made its submission in June to An Bord Pleanála, it contained detailed plans to erect over 400 giant pylons along the route of the interconnector. NEPPC says communities across the North-East are being discriminated against by Eirgrid and by the government because there is no underground option under consideration, unlike the Grid West and Grid Link projects. It says Eirgrid has changed nothing of any material relevance since 2007, when the project was first announced..

The grid operator for its part says an additional high capacity North-South interconnector will provide multiple technical and other benefits.  These include improving competition by reducing the constraints that are currently restricting the efficient performance of the all-island Single Electricity Market; improving security of supply and supporting the development of renewable power generation by enhancing the flexible exchange of power flows over a large area of the island. It says these benefits will accrue to all electricity consumers on the island of Ireland.

EirGrid has stated that the proposed interconnector will also provide sufficient additional transmission capacity in the North East area of Ireland to cater for growth in electricity consumption for many years and will also put the area in a good position if an even stronger economic recovery should emerge in the coming years.

The new interconnector will increase the capacity, and the reliability, of interconnection between the two networks. This will allow the two independent networks to operate together as if they were one system for the mutual benefit of residents and businesses in both jurisdictions.The increase in interconnection capacity will effectively eliminate current restrictions in cross border support in the event of a shortage of electricity in one jurisdiction, thus enhancing the security of electricity supply throughout the island of Ireland.

Operating the two networks as if they were one system will bring cost savings for all electricity consumers as larger electricity systems can be operated more efficiently than smaller ones. The increase in interconnection capacity will also facilitate further and greater connection of wind generation in both parts of the island which will help achieve Ireland’s renewable energy targets.

EirGrid’s counterpart in the North, SONI, also believes that the new link is vital to ensure the effective operation of an efficient all-island electricity market, to support the realisation of strategic renewable energy targets and to exert downward pressure on electricity prices for customers in Northern Ireland. It will allow the all-island wholesale electricity market to work more efficiently, enabling wider competition between power generators and electricity suppliers throughout the island, and therefore ensuring that future electricity prices will be as competitive as possible. It will enable more renewable generator capacity (mostly wind generation) to be connected to the electricity network. The governments in both jurisdictions have set challenging targets for the amount of electricity to be generated from renewable sources, 40% by 2020, and these targets cannot be met without additional interconnection.

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