TRANSPORT Minister Noel Dempsey has set himself on a collision course with the state-owned powergrid company by calling for high-voltage power lines to be placed underground.
EirGrid has warned that putting the planned 400Kv line from Meath to Cavan underground -- rather than on overhead pylons -- will increase the cost from €180m to €1.8bn.
It is also planning to erect another 600 km of high-voltage overhead power lines around the country over the next 20 years to provide the capacity for the State to get up to 42pc of its power from renewable sources.
Mr Dempsey, whose Meath West constituents will be affected by the pylon project, has asked EirGrid to look into putting the power lines underground for 58km along the route of the new M3 motorway.
"I had a number of meetings with EirGrid and requested them to fully examine the option of putting the power lines underground," he told a Sunday newspaper.
Fine Gael Meath East TD Shane McEntee said many people living in the areas affected by the project were worried about potential health effects.
Mr McEntee added: "All we've asked for is an independent study giving a price on what it would cost to put the cables underground." He said the protesters against the power lines came from "right across the political spectrum".
"There will be another 20 of these projects over the coming years and every other TD in the country is going to come under the same pressure as we are. We're saying Minister Eamon Ryan (Energy) should do the independent study now rather than later," Mr McEntee said.
The issue is due to be examined by the Oireachtas energy committee on Wednesday.
Radiation experts, such as Professor Denis Henshaw of Bristol University, have linked the electromagnetic fields from high power lines fields to birth defects and miscarriages and believe the current World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, used as a standard by grid companies throughout Europe, should be changed.
But the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the WHO, later described Professor Henshaw's evidence as "inadequate''.
Michael Brennan Political Correspondent