A Bord Pleanála oral hearing begins on Monday 7th March into EirGrid’s latest proposal for a North/South electricity interconnector, one of the largest ever infrastructure projects in the history of the state. Two inspectors from the Planning Board began hearing submissions at the Nuremore Hotel in Carrickmacross.
The plan proposes building 299 pylons in the Republic to carry a high voltage (400kV) power line from Woodland in Co. Meath where there is an existing substation to Turleenan near the Moy on County Tyrone. It would pass through Meath, a small part of Co. Cavan near Kingsport and then through 42 town lands in Co. Monaghan. The line is due to cross the border at Lemgare near Clontibret, beside Derrynoose in Co. Armagh.
The line is a total of 135km long. The Northern Ireland section is subject to a separate planning application by EirGrid’s subsidiary SONI. It is under review by the Planning Appeals Commission, which will hold a preliminary public hearing in Armagh on June 21st to examine legal aspects of the application.
The Commission was requested by the NI Department of the Environment to conduct a public inquiry under Article 31(2) of the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 for the purpose of considering representations made in respect of the 2009 application. The inquiry opened on 6th March 2012 but was adjourned on 20th March 2012 when it came to light that the application and the environmental statement and its addenda had not been properly advertised in the press. The Commissioners recommended that before it was re-advertised, the environmental statement should be consolidated and updated to take account of changes put forward by the applicants in their evidence to the inquiry.
On 9th October 2014, the NI Environment Department renewed its request for a public inquiry into the 2009 application for the electricity interconnector proposal and asked that it be conjoined with an inquiry into the 2013 application for associated works. Copies of a consolidated environmental statement relating to both applications had previously been forwarded to the Commission. However, in a further letter dated 18th November 2014, the Department informed the Commission of the applicant’s intention to submit additional environmental information relating to the trans-boundary landscape and visual effects of the proposed development.
The Commission said it would take no further action in relation to the inquiry until:- the additional environmental information had been submitted and the public consultation period had elapsed;
the Commission was provided with copies of all documents relevant to and arising from the additional information; and
the Department confirmed that it had in its possession all the environmental information it considered necessary to meet the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and Regulations.
System Operator for Northern Ireland welcomed the news that the PAC public enquiry would recommence in June. It said the North South Interconnector was required urgently for security of electricity supply in Northern Ireland. It said the proposed project would reduce electricity prices and provide Northern Ireland with a secure electricity supply by linking the grids in NI and the Republic.
After being referred to the PAC, the Public Inquiry hearing originally began in March 2012 and was subsequently adjourned to allow the submission of further information relating to the planning application. Having received all relevant information, the PAC has notified SONI that proceedings can now continue, a major milestone for the project as SONI’s General Manager Robin McCormick explained:
“We are pleased to have been notified by the PAC about the recommencement of the public inquiry into the North South Interconnector. It is a critical piece of infrastructure, essential for a secure supply of electricity for Northern Ireland. It will also significantly reduce the cost of electricity for consumers across the entire island and will allow us to increase our use of renewable energy, reducing Northern Ireland’s reliance on imported fossil fuels. SONI has worked tirelessly to progress the planning application to make these benefits a reality.
“The project is fundamental to the Northern Irish economy and is supported by DETI, the Utility Regulator and all of the main business organisations including CBI, Northern Ireland Chamber and Manufacturing NI, but, in order to keep the lights on and to avoid increasing consumer costs, the interconnector must be built by 2019 and to that end, we would hope for a speedy resolution from the inquiry.”
“We understand that some people have concerns, especially when it comes to large infrastructure projects of this nature. We have teams on the ground, listening and responding to those concerns and would like anyone with questions to know that we are available for discussions, up until the inquiry begins.”
SONI’s specially appointed Agricultural Liaison Officer Fergal Keenan, is available to provide information about the project and can be contacted directly at 07966-930844 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.