This section was for other interest groups or individuals to make comments on the overall development
Michael Fisher NORTHERN STANDARD 07/04/16
This panoramic view provided to the hearing by James McNally taken near his home close to Lemgare Rocks, Clontibret, shows the countryside over which EirGrid plans to erect pylons and an overhead 400kV power line running down to the valley and crossing the border into Co. Armagh. A separate application is being made by SONI for this section and is subject to the Northern Ireland planning appeal process. The proposed line also crosses over the border at one point between two pylons situated in Co. Monaghan; it then leads into Armagh in the Derrynoose area.
JAMES AND MARY MCNALLY
We will attempt to summarise the excessive number of discrepancies which we have identified and highlighted in the body of this oral submission, with regard to the shortcomings in the work carried out by Eirgrid in compiling this planning application. These include but are not limited to, the reluctance by the developer to ensure the “highest possible standards of transparency and public participation” in line with the principles of the Aarhus Convention, the inadequate consultation displayed by the complete failure of the developer to actively engage with people on the proposal, through the provision of an unrecognisable address on website for postal communication, the flawed route selection process by choosing the “crooked elbow route” through vulnerable elderly peoples’ property adding a further 3 kilometres to the route and 11 or 12 additional pylons, map location contour measurement discrepancies, disregard for health and safety regulation in the workplace and increased risk of electrocution for farmers and children, the trans-boundary “no mans’ land” dangers, the drastic negative impact on the main Tourist asset and local area of natural beauty, “The Monaghan Way Walk” ,the non-adherence to the landscape protection policies ( LPP’s 1-3) included in Monaghan County Development Plan 2013-2019 which protect the uniqueness of the landscape and its amenities, incorrect statement on the Monaghan Way Walk route passing between towers 109 and 110 when it is in fact it actually passes between towers 108 and 109 on a different more elevated roadway, statistically flawed, limited and inaccurate sampling techniques employed from a considerable distance off the alignment (binocular view) not on the land and hedgerows, skewed surveys at alignment road crossings where the representative sample area would be too small to draw any definitive conclusions from the bat survey, avoidance of compliance with National and EU Legislation and Habitats Directives in relation to protected species of bats, intentionally requesting advance approval from the board to be exempted from detailed surveys on protected species of bats and otters until overall planning approval has been granted, thereby, diluting established planning regulation and setting a new precedence for construction projects in future, the failure to consider the conservation interest of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly within the 10k colonising zone in Lemgare adjoining Drumgallon bog pNHA and the internationally recognised ASSI182 site in Drumcarn, the inadequacies of the Whooper swans survey in Tassan and the very limited consideration of other Fauna and Flora in the locality, the potential for destruction of a nationally recognised site for rare orchids on the “Tassan Grasslands” between Towers 117 – 118, the erroneous measurements on the distance of the proposed line from Tassan Lough pNHA, three separate inconsistent measurements varying from 250 metres to 310 metres, a variance of 60 metres all within the same EIS, the negative economic impact on Angling in the region, no consideration given to the serious and deadly risk for toxic lead, Zinc, or arsenic run off in to the ecologically sensitive Tassan Lough pNHA and potential poisonous pollution to the local water table as a result of disused mine shaft collapse underneath pylons 116 and 117, which could arise during the construction phase, the failure to investigate fully the ecologically sensitive areas of Annaglough and Lemgare with regards to mining and shaft collapse with the potential for shaft collapse and subsequent contamination of water sources in the area, the omission from the planning maps of a significant poultry building unit in Lisdrumgormly and the cultural venue “Kabin” in Tassan both of which have been in situ for a number of years would suggest that the developer was using outdated maps in the planning submission, major negative tourism impacts on the scenic perception from the National roadway N2, Tassan Lough pNHA Monaghan Way Walk, and Lemgare Rocks by the placing of a significant number of tall pylons up to 52 metres high on elevated ground midway up drumlins, with a web of powerlines crossing steep ridges, with cut back treelines and vegetation, the omission of known serious aviation risks for helicopters such as the Emergency Aeromedical Service, border security and ballooning, inappropriate requests for advance approval from the Board to allow the developer surreptitiously design a construction traffic management plan, the increased potential for damage to protected structures such as the perimeter of Latnakelly fort and other significant archaeological monuments in the area, the erection of powerlines across the local social centre and community area cultural venue at Murphy’s crossroads in Tassan known locally as the “Kabin”, the negative impacts on the floodplains and wetlands combined with the likelihood of drumlin shift or soil creep.
The foregoing are but a few of the shortcomings we have identified in this area for the planning application. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the EIS and Eirgrid’s planning application for the proposed development is inadequate and incomplete.
I wish to acknowledge the hard work of our esteemed colleague, the late Councillor Owen Bannigan who recognised as far back as October 2007, the absolute and total futility of this project going over ground through the unique and beautiful Monaghan countryside. I am sure he is here with us in spirit as he relished nothing better than taking on giants and exposing the error of their ways, may he rest in peace.
The EIS and planning application does not in our view provide an impartial observer with concise, objective and sufficient, detailed evidence to justify the destruction of a beautiful unspoilt part of the Irish countryside when we know that the developer has alternative options such as the use of more modern HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) technology which can be put underground along existing infrastructural road networks. The cumulative costs in terms of destruction of scenic drumlin landscape, negative visual impact from a visitor and tourist perspective, environmental and ecological destruction of protected species and habitats, the increased risk to health and safety and fatalities underneath the proposed line, the decimation of house and land values along the alignment are factors which substantially outweigh the likely benefits of the proposed overhead 400,000 volt powerline.
We would contest that the absence of detailed information particularly with regard to test holes and actual on the ground pylon site investigations render this planning application incomplete. The incompatible visual intrusion of industrial scale large steel pylons on a drumlin countryside would detract from the attractive rural character, appearance, amenity and setting of the landscape and would be contrary to the sustainable development of the area. The letter which was posted as part of our failed consultation, but which could not be delivered by An Post to the address as advertised on the Eirgrid website had the following commonly used legal phrase “Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi” in its final line, which when roughly translated means “Truth fears nothing but concealment”.
In conclusion, we are in favour of progress, but not to the detriment of our beautiful landscape, or our elderly neighbours who have worked hard all their lives to nurture this unique environment, our families health and welfare and our continued existence in this lovely neighbourhood which is our home. We would respectively request Bord Pleanála to reject this planning request.
MAGHERACLOONE FARMER CALLS FOR UNDERGROUNDING
THOMAS MC DERMOTT, a farmer from Drumbracken, Magheracloone, said if the development went ahead, it would represent a despicable blot on the landscape which his family had worked on for seven generations. He called for the power lines to be put underground. He told the inspectors he came to the hearing to support the objections expressed by his neighbours and friends, all of whom, he said, had the same fears and concerns regarding the proposed power line.
Mr McDermott said it was necessary when a project of this magnitude was planned to adopt a long-term view regarding the detrimental impact in relation to health, the economy of Co. Monaghan, the visual impact on the landscape of the county and the reduction in value of people’s property. All these aspects must represent a viable reason why the project in its present form should not get the go-ahead.
When the North/South Interconnector was first mooted undergrounding was dismissed out of hand by EirGrid as being excessively costly and all sorts of wild figures were bandied about in relation to these costs. Nine years later these potentially excessive costs for an underground route were no longer the case. Nobody was against progress. However, there was an alternative to the overgrounding of this project and that was to underground it. Although disruptive, it would not result in the same controversy, concerns and fears as an overhead line.
There were genuine health fears in relation to magnetic fields emulating from high voltage power lines. The utmost emphasis must be placed on our own health and that of future generations, he said. On both sides of the argument experts could be called on to make cases on both sides but surely the prudent view was to err on the side of caution.
Mr McDermott went on: “With regard to the future development of agriculture in this county I believe this planning application if granted will stifle that development and thereby affect not just the wider outlying rural community but the market towns of Co. Monaghan too.” He said this and the previous government’s policy on this infrastructure proposal was very short sighted. Future generations would not look kindly on those who could and should have taken the longer-term view.
He asked the inspector, as an independent overseer who would be making her report to the full Board, to support the longer-term view. “Please act in the interests of the current generation; act on behalf of my three month old grandson who will, I hope, pay many visits to his ancestral home in Magheracloone and please act for the generations to come.”
As they sat again in the Nuremore Hotel for the second time in six years, across the water in England the power grid companies were taking down overhead lines and undergrounding them. Common sense and economic sense had prevailed there and must prevail here (in Ireland).
Mr McDermott drew attention to a Sunday Business Post report that EirGrid’s senior executives had receieved bonuses of €19,000 each, junior executives a bonus of €10,000 each and other staff members bonuses of €2,000+ each. So between 2011 and 2015 bonuses of €6m to €7m had been paid out to these executives. It was money that could have been offset towards the undergrounding of this project. Such a ‘bonus culture’ created an air of arrogance, which he said had already manifested itself in relation to EirGrid’s treatment of those who had expressed genuine fears and concerns in relation to the project.
What the North East was looking for was parity of esteem before the planning process. Grid Link and Grid West had been mothballed. The people of County Monaghan deserved to be treated the same as the people of Counties Mayo, Roscommon, Kildare and Cork. He concluded: “Madam Inspector, should not any planning decision equate to equality before the law?”
REGIONAL GAME COUNCIL VIEW
DAN CURLEY Secretary of the Co. Monaghan Regional Game Council said nothing much had changed since the original planning application by EirGrid in 2010. In his view, the company had still not done a proper environmental impact statement. He described the latest effort as “a combination of waffle, generalisations and commenting on and using information EirGrid got from objectors’ submissions, and what was said at the previous oral hearing.”
He pointed out there was no baseline data of the environmental state of the proposed sites. With no starting point or a data log of the sites, the EIS could go nowhere. Talk of mitigation or alternative measures was totally irrelevant, because we do not know what we are trying to save or protect, he said.
EirGrid were not given an exemption from completing an environmental impact statement. So they must submit a proper EIS with the application. These statements were very important to ensure that EU law, the habitat and birds directives, and Irish law in this area were fully complied with. Mr Curley said bodies such as An Bord Pleanála had a huge responsibility to ensure all applicants submitted a proper EIS, as defined under Irish law (statutory instrument SI349/1989). He asked the presiding inspector to return the whole application to EirGrid and claimed they had not submitted a proper EIS as defined by law.
It was difficult to separate fact from fiction about the alternatives, as the debate had moved so much since the start. At the beginning, undergrouding of the cables was supposed to be eight times more expensive than overground. The latest figure he had heard mentioned was three times. EirGrid had spun so many stories it was difficult to know what was factual, he said.
In the latest EIS they said they needed the proposed 400kV and the existing Louth-Tandragee 275kV line so that they had a fallback should one fail. The company said the existing inerconnector was near overload, but they had not produced data or evidence that this current line was under pressure. To our knowledge there was never any outage North or South attributed to the shortcomings of this line, Mr Curley said. If all this went ahead, they would have 675kV capacity, whereas 275kV was doing the job at the minute. A 150% increase in capacity, which raised a question about just how necessary the project was.
Mr Curley asked whether EirGrid had considered connecting the two jurisdictions with a cable in the Irish Sea? It would seem sensible to connect Belfast or nearby with Drogheda, Dundalk or Dublin, bearing in mind that all the electricity usage was along the eastern coast, he said.
If EirGrid wanted to proceed with the proposed route, then it must be underground. Destroying this area of County Monaghan or any area visually and environmentally and making it a wasteland because of these pylons and lines must not be allowed to happen, because there were alternatives. Mr Curley called on Bord Pleanála to reject the application.
EIRGRID RESPONSE ON UNDERGROUNDING
AIDAN GEOGHEGAN, EirGrid Project Manager, explained that the existing electricity transmission system in Ireland, as in every other country in the world, was an HVAC (or Alternating Current) system. Any new transmission project that utilised HVAC would therefore be an extension of the existing technology.
High Voltage Direct Current wass an alternative method of transmitting electricity. He said HVDC technology was mostly used to transmit bulk power from one point to another over long distances where HVAC was not technically and/or environmentally acceptable (e.g. a high capacity submarine cable up to 50km long).
HVDC could also be the most effective option for very long transmission circuits. Analysis showed that HVDC underground and overhead options started at a cost disadvantage to any HVAC option owing to the relatively high cost of the converter stations required at the terminals. However as the circuit length increased, the difference in cost declined until eventually a breakeven point was reached and thereafter the HVDC option became the most effective.
The cost breakeven point for the HVDC underground option versus the (proposed) HVAC overhead line option occured when the circuit length was in the region of 600km-800km. In the case of the HVDC underground option the breakeven point with AC underground cabling was in the region of 80km-120 km. An HVDC UGC would never be more cost effective than a HVAC OHL option. A graph of the figures would suggest that the breakeven or crossover point between these two options would occur at some circuit length far in excess of 1000 km, a distance of no relevance for a country the size of Ireland. (These figures came from a Parsons Brinckerhoff Report (Electricity Transmission Costing Study, 2012).
HVDC is also used for linking independently operated HVAC systems (e.g. a link such as EirGrid‘s East-West interconnector) where it is impossible to link such systems using a standard HVAC circuit. Mr Geoghegan pointed out that inserting an HVDC circuit between any two points in an HVAC network would require the HVAC electricity to be converted into HVDC electricity at one end, transmitted through cable or overhead line to the other end, where it would be converted back from DC to AC, and then transmitted back into the HVAC network. This would be inefficient (unless the HVDC circuit was very long) and also costly (in terms of the requirement for converter stations) but it was ‘technically feasible’, he said.
The EirGrid Project Manager spoke about the two main HVDC convertor station technologies – Current Source Convertors (CSC) also known as Line Commutated Converters (LCC) and the emerging Voltage Source Converters (VSC). Both could be applied in combination with an overhead line or underground cable. VSC DC was considered a more flexible technology than LCC DC as it could be less difficult to integrate into an AC grid. This VSC DC technology continued to develop with converter stations becoming more efficient, reliable and compact; these advances were specifically referred to in the findings of the International Expert Commission report (2012).
Regarding development of the National Grid in England Mr Geoghegan told the hearing there were approximately 570km of existing high voltage overhead lines, supported on pylons, running through thirty national parks and designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales. These lines had been built in the 1950s and 60s when less consideration was given to their visual impact than would now be the case.
A national consultation was carried out to determine the public’s willingness to pay for the undergrounding of these overhead lines. The outcome was that Ofgem, the energy regulator for England and Wales, authorised expenditure of £500 million for the undergrounding of the most visually intrusive sections. National Grid the owner of the lines estimated that undergrounding a section of existing line would cost £20m-£22m per kilometre.
The £500 million budget was therefore sufficient to underground approximately 25km, or less than 4.5%, of the existing 570km of overhead lines. The National Grid had drawn up a shortlist of candidate sections for undergrounding, totalling 25km in length. These were located in the National Parks of Snowdonia, Peak District, New Forest and Brecon Beacons and in the Dorset, Tamar Valley, High Weald and North Wessex Downs AONBs. Mr Geoghegan explained that the 135km route of the proposed North/South interconnector had been chosen to avoid national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.