This section dealt with the consideration of alternatives
Michael Fisher Northern Standard
MONAGHAN COUNTY COUNCIL
A senior planner from Monaghan County Council Toirleach Gourley talked about alternative routes for the proposed interconnector. He told the two planning inspectors from An Bord Pleanála there was a lack of robust consideration of alternative routes along the West Louth and South Armagh corridor near Crossmaglen. He said the preferred route chosen in the application had gravitated towards the County Monaghan area. Furthermore there was a pre-defined border crossing (into County Armagh at Lemgare near Clontibret) and no alternative had been given.
EIRGRID SAYS LINE CAN’T AVOID MONAGHAN
EirGrid senior planner Des Cox in response to Mr Gourley said the routing alternatives had been subject to a detailed re-evaluation following the initial proposal in 2005. The content of the documents published then had been re-visited. The technical needs and environmental constraints had been taken into consideration in the Cavan/Monaghan study area. There were a number of urban areas near the proposed route such as Carrickmacross, Castleblayney and Ballybay which the engineers attempted to avoid in drawing up the line. He explained why the company proposed to divert the line through County Monaghan.
Regarding the proposed crossing point into Northern Ireland at Lemgare near Clontibret, Mr Cox said the planners had identified the Battle of Clontibret site as a heritage area. Because of the heritage, roadside housing and the high ground there were significant environmental constraints in that area.
Mr Gourley questioned why EirGrid did not decide to identify an alternative line that would run close to the existing interconnector that crossed the border near Crossmaglen in South Armagh. He appreciated that there had to be separation between the lines but said the company had not given robust consideration to an alternative.
Mr Cox said he was satisfied EirGrid had considered the options at strategic level and that the options were dealt with. But Mr Gourley repeated that no consideration had been given to an alternative border crossing and said Monaghan County Council was not satisfied on this issue. The response from Mr Cox was that EirGrid had considered the alternatives and “we’re satisfied it (the line) can’t avoid Monaghan”.
CO. MONAGHAN ANTI PYLON COMMITTEE
Nigel Hillis of the County Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee said they did not speak or give any evidence on this subject at the previous oral hearing in 2010. They were not experts on transmission systems or interconnectors, indeed how could they be expected to be, nor did the committee have the funds to employ any such experts. They had to approach this module from a discrete prospective and glean whatever knowledge from published documents such as relevant technical studies and public records of meetings.
He reminded the inspectors about the history of the project, pointing out that formal discussions about increased cross-border transmission reinforcement between Northen Ireland Electricity and ESB-NG started around 2001 and culminated in December 2005 with a joint decision paper entitled: ‘Additional North South Interconnector Selection of Preferred Option’.
Out of five options, the preferred route was stated as Kingscourt in Co. Cavan to Drumkee near Coalisland in Co. Tyrone. This was the least cost option which complied with the criteria for additional interconnection:
- increase transfer capability significantly in both directions;
- the additional interconnector must avoid situations where a single event could lead to system separation.
The report did not decide on the voltage or whether the line would be single or double circuit. The final recommendation was to go for a 400kV single circuit at 900MW capacity having the potential to expand to 1500MW at any time in future if the demand was there. It was to be linked into the planned Dublin to North East 400kV line utilising the planned substation at Kingscourt. So what started out in reality as two different projects for different needs then joined up at the proposed Kingscourt substation.
Mr Hillis said all the alternatives considered to that point in time were for traditional overhead lines. He said no information could be found that undergrounding was in any way considered. “I do not believe it even entered their heads – although I am absolutely open to correction by EirGrid on that. And as we know an overhead 400kV line along three alternative routes in Monaghan, not sure how many in Meath, was presented to the public at the end of 2007”.
There was then a massive public outcry and immediate calls to underground the line to the extent that forced the Energy Minister at the time Eamonn Ryan to commission an independent report into undergrounding early in 2008. The report by German energy systems consultants ECOFYS report ‘Study on the comparative merits of overhead electricity transmission lines versus underground cables’ never really gained much traction and like a lot of government reports it ended up on the high shelf gathering dust. There seemed to be general dissatisfaction with it in all quarters, according to Mr Hillis.
QUARRY OWNER SAYS N.E. TREATED UNJUSTLY
A local quarry owner, Phil Connolly from Carrickamore, Corduff, Carrickmacross, explained that he had land in the route corridor and his dwelling is 200m above sea level and 500m from the proposed line. His quarry is 100m from the corridor. “We will be able to view, at a conservative estimate, twenty (proposed) pylons from our holding”, he said.
LACK OF ALTERNATIVE ROUTE CORRIDORS
He said this was a totally new application for a project from Tyrone to Meath and differed greatly from the 2009 application.
“Critically this new application does not contain a sub-station in Cavan at all. Why? Is it piece meal development or will it likely, never be required at all? If it’s the first it’s wrong in planning, if it’s the latter it would have opened up this project to a far greater choice of options for area and route selection.”
*The needs outlined for the 2009 application are totally changed in the second.
*There is no strengthening of the network locally as previously stated.
*An expert independent commission has reported in 2011 that undergrounding, using D.C., is feasible for the project.
Therefore, starting with Stage 1., of Eirgrids development and consultation road map, this new project warrants a whole new scoping and appraisal of firstly the study area, then route corridors and then preferred route corridor. Not a re-evaluation of old obsolete and discredited information.
Did Eirgrid consult with stakeholders on routes B and C in Monaghan and Cavan for this new application? No! Simply put, no consultation was carried out for this project in the three corridors.
To compound matters the so called consultation carried out in 2007 is generally considered to be useless and totally inadequate. It only lasted for a few short months over the Christmas period. My first knowledge of the project and experience of meeting with Eirgrid representatives was at a public meeting in late 2007 in Monaghan town. I had stated that I would allow Eirgrid to access my land to carry out undergrounding of the lines but that I certainly would not want them on my lands to erect overhead lines. An Eirgrid representative then told me and my then teenage family that QUOTE “We will come in the front door of your home and out the back door if we have the need and you won’t be able to stop us.” That was the level of consultation we received.
Stage 2 of the road map is to “consider all feedback from Stage 1” and is based on nine year-old consultation from a different project! Again to put it in perspective, if I was to apply to MCC for planning on my quarry using 2007 consultation reports I would be laughed at.
How many people have emigrated, passed away, moved house, might be affected by Community Gain or changed their views in nine years on routes B and C? How many people on lines B and C routes know that it is all one project now? Not two sections? No sub-station in Kingscourt? That undergrounding is feasible?
This application is like building a house with no foundations. No matter what amount of cement you put in the walls it will still sink. All those tables covered with folders are useless if the basics are wrong. It is impossible to choose a preferred route corridor without consultation with all three corridors.
ROUTE CORRIDOR SELECTION
When you examine this old route constraints report 2006/07 you will find; no consistent, transparent or reliable method was used in Route Corridor Selection and it contains many inaccuracies, for example; In county Meath a 10% difference in route length resulted in a negative rating for that route, while in Monaghan a 10% difference in route length was ignored. WHY?
Cultural Heritage: The red line in Monaghan, is identified as having the greatest impact on cultural heritage however they then enter a bizarre paragraph in an attempt to neutralise this. “There is a possibility that those sites that are directly impacted may in fact not be, and vice versa those sites which are indirectly impacted may actually be directly impacted”. It’s like a line straight out of a farcical comedy. What use is that?
Land Use: In their calculation of the number of dwellings, AOS states that their findings are “subject to erroneous data”, “by no means definite” and only an “approximate idea”. Route selection should not have been chosen using this type of unreliable data.
Visual impact: Examination of their data shows that the main difference, incorrectly given, between both routes is the medium to high assessment given to the 8km stretch of the B route where it crosses the R178 and the low assessment given to the similar stretch of the A route where it crosses the R178. Why did the B route get this high rating? What visual receptors were used? In this section of the B route there are no areas of population, scenic routes or lakes affected and as they were unsure of the number of dwellings within 100 meters then it is reasonable to assume that they had no acceptably accurate assessment of how many dwellings there were within the 1km wide corridor or further away. This section of the A route, on the other hand, is clearly visible for miles from the R178. I believe a proper independent assessment would show route A to have a greater visible impact along the R178. It is also in close proximity to 2 churches, a factory and a number of dwellings. The simple fact is that Route A if visible from a far greater length of the R178 than Route B.
Economic Impacts: With regards route selection in the EIS (section 5.3), Existing quarries, in County Meath route A gets a blue rating for Trim quarry located 0.8km and Keegans quarry 0.3 km away from this indicative route. In relation to County Monaghan it gives no negative rating on any of the three routes for existing quarries.
I own a substantial quarry at Carrickamore, Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan. It is within 0.1 km of route A, the selected route. It was not mentioned nor taken into account but should obviously have resulted in a blue rating for route A if there was any consistency in the methodology used. Furthermore it bizarrely states that there are 12 quarries within 6km of all three routes. I would like them to name these quarries in all 3 cases as this information is substantially wrong.
These are just a sample of the inaccuracies. Did the re-evaluation report correct these and factor in correct data to enable their choice of preferred route?? The re-evaluation report is just a useless paper exercise, this application still relies on 10 year old incorrect, ancient data.
In 2012 Eirgrid announced 2 new 400kv projects i.e. Grid Link, 300km and Grid West which is 100km long, similar to this project. When you look at “needs and justification “outlined by Eirgrid for these projects, you will see they are very similar in a lot of ways to this project.
- The existing transmission infrastructure in the two regions needs substantial investment.
- To facilitate wind energy development
- To meet E.U. targets
- Will help all regions to attract the type of industry that requires a secure high voltage supply
Up to 2014 they had progressed both projects the same as this one and had 3 route corridors for overhead lines chosen. In Grid West there was an emerging preferred route. The only major difference being that the consultation was carried out with the public at a far earlier stage and to a far greater extent than this project.
As with this project, undergrounding was put forward by the affected stakeholders and the reasons given by EirGrid for not considering it as follows:
- It does not deliver future flexibility/ extendibility.
- It does not deliver same security/ reliability of supply when compared with overhead A/C.
- It causes additional operational difficulties
- It is untried and untested as part of an integrated A/C network
- It would be cost prohibitive to tap in or avail of the power in D/C line
And on these grounds it was not feasible.
UNDER GROUNDING MUST BE PART OF PROPOSAL
IN January 2014 due to local and regional pressure in the West and South from public who were now aware of the massive long term impacts of overhead pylons, Minister Rabbitt set up an independent expert panel (I.E.P.) to look into both projects.
The panel’s terms of reference were for a “comprehensive, route specific studies/ report of fully undergrounding and overhead options for both projects including assessments of potential environmental impacts, technical efficiency and cost factors.”
Then later that year the Minister, after pressure from local politicians in this area, reluctantly asked the same group to give an opinion on this project just to see if the compatibility of the methodologies to be employed on the North South link compare with those on Grid Link and Grid West, critically, up to May 2nd 2014
This consisted of the panel, on May 7th, asking EirgGid to submit an assessment of the extent to which in EirGrids view, the methodologies used were compatible. So we get EirGrids view on how EirGrid was carrying out the three projects. We didn’t need an expert panel to answer that question at that stage as EirGrid had progressed Grid West to an emerging preferred route stage for pylons and undergrounding was not considered as feasible.
When EirGrid quote the findings of the I.E.P. several times in the application that the compatibility of the methodologies used were the same in Grid link and Grid West as the North South, it means nothing. Only that at that stage of the projects, 2nd May 2014, they had treated the people of the West and South somewhat like they had treated us.
The I.E.P. then, in July 2014, got involved in both Grid West and Grid Link projects, using this wide terms of reference for the studies/reports and overseen Eirgrid carry them out. Then everything changed. In Grid Link by October 2014 Eirgrid had dropped plans for a 400kv line and put forward a new plan, with no new poles. As the I.E.P described it “But a new option” not previously known or anticipated by the panel.
In Grid West the I.E.P. report allows for undergrounding and overhead options to be compared against each other, hence a new underground feasible option that would cost just twice the amount of overhead lines is part of this projects proposal. The compatibility of the methodologies used would not have been the same if they were compared in September 2015.
Reading the I.E.P report it clearly shows me and hopefully An Bord Pleanala that:
- EirGrid changed everything when they were challenged by a body with the right Terms of Reference
- Underground D/C is feasible, even in the middle of a small total A/C network, at twice the cost, when you identify a proper route.
This is totally at odds with what EirGrid states in this application.
- When the general population who are directly affected and become aware of the massive long term impacts of overhead lines on their region, they are rightly, totally opposed to them.
So it’s not just us in the North East.
- Technical, costs and other excuses or reasons put forward by Eirgrid don’t stand up to expert scrutiny
- That we here in the North East are being treated unjustly and that a proper, realistic and definite underground D/C alternative solution must be part of this proposal from an early stage. I believe, with this standard of alternative, not made available in this application that it doesn’t meet planning regulations. There is a genuine, reasonable, workable, cost effective, alternative option proven to be available.
We deserve and demand to be treated with equality. This expert group should have been given the same terms of reference as Grid Link and Grid West.
The review from the international expert commission in 2011 confirmed what we had said at the last oral hearing. That is, that a high voltage D/C solution is a feasible option for this project and that it would not cost anywhere near the 10-20 times extra that Eirgrid has wrongly been touting for years. The report also quotes Gridlink report from 2009 that states technical difficulties can be overcome and that this will be the 2nd all Ireland interconnector and this makes balancing power etc. very possible. Even the C.A.O at Eirgrid has, under pressure, recently admitted that D/C is a feasible option.
I have been a self-employed business man all my adult life. I am very much in favour of progress and development to benefit our communities and our country. I also believe in peoples’ rights to be treated equally and fairly. With regards to this project, the Stakeholders of the North East have not been given the same regard as those in the West and South. We have been subjected to miss information, wrong information, wrong data, cost exaggerations and poor consultation for 8 years.
The I.E.P. did EirGrid a favour when they forced change in Grid West and Grid Link. Both these projects will likely progress quickly without prolonged aggravation for the people of the regions and long term damage to the countryside. I believe at this point that this application should be suspended and an expert group taken in. They should be given the similar terms of reference as the I.E.P. This would save this community many more years of aggravation and indeed save EirGrid time and money
Padraig O’Reilly of the NEPPC claimed EirGrid had failed to consider objectively all realistic alternatives. There was also a failure by the government and Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to ensure an objective examination of realistic alternatives. From 2007 onwards EirGrid had made policy statements about an overhead line. Their initial statements on undergrounding had been misleading and they then made reluctant concessions to examine ‘the barriers to undergrounding’. They claimed incorrectly to have examined realistic options.
Mr O’Reilly said no real examination of changes in the marketplace had occurred and there was no allowance for the reduced need in the market. He pointed out that underground cable technology was advancing rapidly, with a progressive reduction in costs. It was of proven reliability, producing no electric field. It was being used increasingly in other countries. There were no issues surrounding health, devaluation of property, agriculture, noise, tourism or the landscape.
According to the NEPPC, up to this day an appropriate high voltage DC underground cable alternative along public roads had never been identified, consulted on or costed.
The company confirmed the cost of the proposed line from Woodland in Co. Meath through Cavan and Monaghan to Turleenan in Co. Tyrone would be €286 million, consisting of construction expenditure and compensation to landowners. An EirGrid representative told the inquiry he would have a look at getting a breakdown of the figures but that he couldn’t see what that had to do with alternatives.
The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign and Co. Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee pressed EirGrid on why an environmental impact statement regarding the proposed infrastructure had not considered and costed an underground alternative. A consultant brought in by EirGrid said in response to their questions a high voltage DC underground cable was certainly a possibility.
Padraig O’Reilly of NEPPC asked again if the possibility of placing such cables alongside public roads had been considered. He said there was a serious deficiency in the company’s application as such an analysis was not included. But consultant engineer Dr Norman MacLeod responded that considerable excavation would be required for underground cabling. It would require either two trenches on one side of the road or one trench on either side and the verges would have to be dug up and the large swathe along the 135km route would have to be protected.
Aidan Geoghegan of EirGrid said Ireland’s local and regional roads were simply not wide enough to accommodate such construction.