Saturday, 14 June 2008

'Anti-pylon' campaign fears health study bias

CAMPAIGNERS against overhead power lines have claimed that Government-appointed consultants who are conducting a study on the merits of laying cables underground are compromised.

North East Pylon Pressure is lobbying against EUR300m plans to run 110 kilometres of high voltage power cables across Leinster and into Northern Ireland to boost Ireland's electricity supply.

Under pressure from affected communities who want the cables to run underground, Eamon Ryan, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources commissioned a study to examine the cost and health implications of both options.

The Dutch company, Ecofys, which was awarded the EUR140,000 contract, is expected to issue its report shortly.

Campaigners have complained that the consultants previously contributed to a 2005 study on Ireland's electricity needs, which recommended the building of another 650 kilometres of high power lines to meet increasing demand.

In a letter to the minister last week, North East Pylon Pressure claimed that Ecofys was "severely compromised" because of its previous work on that report.

Several Fine Gael TDs have also raised the potential conflict in the Dail, with Shane McEntee, of Meath, saying that given the report's recommendation, "it could be perceived that the independence and impartiality of Ecofys to carry out this study is compromised."

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources dismissed the claims, saying there is "no conflict of interest" in hiring Ecofys. It said the Dutch company only contributed to a Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) report on Ireland's electricity needs, which concluded that more electricity pylons were needed.

"Ecofys did work previously on the All Island Grid Study, commissioned by Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) as opposed to this department and, in this context, the department is also satisfied of their independence."

Plans for the North/South interconnector involve 170 pylons built along the proposed route in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.

- Dozens of communities claim the pylons will expose them to health risks such as cancer, will devalue their properties and blight their landscape.

EirGrid has repeatedly maintained that putting electricity cables underground is too expensive, though one section will link Wales to Rush, via a cable that will run beneath the sea and will continue to run underground as far as Meath.

During an Oireachtas committee meeting last week, Shane McEntee said EirGrid admitted it was cheaper to run this portion of cable underground, in contrast with what the operators had claimed. EirGrid later clarified the comments to say the under sea portion of the cable was not prohibitively expensive to run as far as Meath for numerous reasons, given that it uses different technology.

North East Pylon Pressure Group wants to meet with Ecofys before it publishes its findings but the Dutch company is refusing to meet any of the parties, apparently to protect the independence of its findings. It has examined over 500 submissions from interested parties, including a 300page submission from North East Pylon Pressure.

Ecofys is using German underground cabling experts on the study, which will report on the health and environmental impact, and cost comparison, between underground and overground, cabling.

Maeve Sheehan
Sunday Independent

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