Minister poses question as independent study announced
LANDOWNERS along the proposed routes of the 400kV EirGrid power lines should indicate if they would be willing to forfeit compensation if the power company decides it could put the cables underground between Batterstown and Tyrone, the Minister for Transport and Meath West TD, Noel Dempsey, said this week.
He was speaking following the announcement by the Minister for Communications and Energy, Eamonn Ryan, that his Department is to commission an independent study on transmission line infrastructure in Ireland, which will address the implications of installing underground cables relative to overhead transmission lines.
Mr Dempsey had requested Mr Ryan to consider such a study, and the communications minister made the announcement last week as the Joint Oireachtas Committee's hearings on the infrastructure were drawing to a close.
Fears over the health implications of the overhead power lines have been the main reason for the opposition to the pylons and lines by communities across the county, as well as in Cavan and Tyrone. Other issues being raised include environmental, heritage, livelihood and land value concerns.
Mr Dempsey said that a major cost of under-grounding cables, in the region of 25 per cent of the eventual figure, was the land cost. "It would be helpful if the campaign groups involved, and individuals involved, would say if they would be willing to allow EirGrid bury the lines under the land without seeking compensation, as this would reduce the cost considerably and maybe make it possible. I make the suggestion because a lot of people opposing the power lines have already suggested to me that they would be willing to go down this route and I want to establish if it is a common feeling," said the minister.
This would need to be done now in order for it to be included as a factor in the study commissioned by Minister Ryan in comparing the costs of cable vers'us power lines.
Mr Dempsey added that he was sensitive to the fact that people would be entitled to compensation, but he said he was attempting to explore all options.
Minister Eamonn Ryan said the study will be conducted on a national basis and will offer professional advice on best international practice for the construction of transmission lines. It will consider the relative performance and implications of underground cables and overhead lines, having regard to technical characteristics, reliability, operation and maintenance factors, environmental impact, possible health issues and cost.
"I am aware of considerable concern in local communities about the impact of overhead lines," Minister Ryan said. "Local groups and deputies from all sides of the House have expressed their desire for an independent study to consider all the issues involved. I am happy to facilitate the furnishing of this information for due diligence and in the interest of the public good."
The study will be commissioned over the coming weeks with a view to its completion and publication in April.
The move has been welcomed by public representatives in Meath, as well as EirGrid, while the North East Pylon Pressure (NEPP) group gave it a "guarded welcome".
Dermot Byrne, Eirgrid chief executive, said: "We in EirGrid welcome this move and, indeed, we note the request right across the political spectrum for such a study. We are happy to assist the study in whatever way we can."
NEPP says that if the study is to have any credibility, the consultants appointed must be of the highest international repute and experience and entirely independent of EirGrid and the Department of Energy.
The group says that EirGrid must make no further decisions in relation to its proposal until the study has been completed and considered by the minister, the Government and the wider public.
The study must treat the existing EirGrid proposal of three possible routes for overground cables in the northeast as no longer relevant and - instead - look at the optimal route for under-grounding with a clean sheet and without pre-conditions, the NEPP said.
It must also take into account the existing criteria already conceded by EirGrid itself for route selection, and in comparing underground cabling with over-ground, the study must look at the many examples worldwide where underground cabling has been used over long distances and in environments similar to the north-east, it added.
Minister Ryan's decision to commission a study was also welcomed by Meath Fianna Fail TDs Johnny Brady and Thomas Byrne, Fine Gael's Shane McEntee and Damien English, and the Meath Green Party secretary and recent Meath East election candidate, Sean 6 Buachalla.
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