Thursday, 9 October 2008

Electricity lines 'cheaper and safer' underground - report

The national electricity grid operator Eirgrid’s proposed North/South electricity transmission lines should be put underground, according to a report published today by a German firm of consultants in electricity generation and transmission.

The report by ASKON Consulting was commissioned by the North East Pylon Pressure (NEPP) group to resolve public concerns in relation to the plan to build 140 kilometres of high-voltage power lines and pylons linking Meath, Cavan, Monaghan and Tyrone.

It looked at the affordability, reliability, safety, efficiency and security of placing the transmission lines underground.

The report claims parallel underground Alternating Current (AC) cables are cheaper to build and maintain as well as being more reliable and quicker to repair. It also says putting the lines underground would limit people’s exposure to electromagnetic fields

The report recommends using two parallel underground systems consisting of three aluminium cables, 1.4 metres beneath the surface.

Another advantage of putting the lines underground is that an underground cable project would take only four years to complete compared to 7.5 years for overhead lines, according to the report.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Dr Colin Andrew of the NEPP said it provided the "conclusive results we need to influence the policy and decisions of the Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan to inform Government policy and to win the support of all the political parties".

He called on Eirgrid to review its strategy in relation to the feasibility and affordability of placing the lines underground and urged the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Rources to institute public hearings in the light of the report.

A spokesman for Eirgrid said it would study the report and make its project team available to meet with the NEPP.

EirGrid project engineer Tomas Mahony said, however, that it was important people remembered what international experts EcoFys had found in their report published last July.

EcoFys weighed up the pros and cons of pylons versus underground cabling. They found that putting the lines underground would cost five times as much, and three times as much to maintain, as overhead cables.

“The report said nowhere in the world are there underground cables of the lengths required for the proposed 400kV power lines,” he said.

“Underground cables of the length we need are not technically feasible to build. No-one has done it anywhere else in the world and 97 per cent of similar transmission lines in Europe are overhead.”

Mr Mahony said it was EirGrid’s role to ensure the needs of the country are met with a safe secure and reliable power system.

“We cannot take the risk of putting in place unproven technology. This is critical infrastructure for the development of the North East," he said.

Fine Gael spokesman on Energy Simon Coveney welcomed the publication of the report saying it should be taken seriously by the Minister and Eirgrid when making future decisions on electricity grid infrastructure across the country.

“People in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan are concerned at plans to build new high-voltage power lines. We have a responsibility to examine and explore the viability of putting this infrastructure underground,” he said.

“Issues around safety, cost, maintenance and reliability of course all need to be examined.”

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