Friday 13 February 2009

Underground cables 'would cost €500m more'

USING UNDERGROUND cables for a proposed high-power electricity link between Meath and Tyrone will cost €500 million more than putting them overhead, a new report says.

National grid operator Eirgrid plans to build a 70km high-voltage electricity connector through Meath, Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone over the next three years.

It will be part of the national grid, the core of the electricity distribution network. Local people want the State agency to run the power lines underground for environmental and health reasons.

Eirgrid released the findings of a report it and Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) commissioned from experts Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB Power) yesterday.

It shows that the underground option would cost €588 million, as against €81 million for overhead lines. Maintenance costs for underground cables would run to €73 million over their lifespan, €29 million more than it would cost for overhead lines.

Its author, Mark Winfield of PB Power, said yesterday that two other reports, including one commissioned by opposition group, North East Pylon Pressure (NEPP), also found that the underground option is more expensive. That study found that it could cost €300 million.

Mr Winfield told The Irish Times yesterday that Ireland would be going into “uncharted waters” if the lines were placed underground.

“Underground cables of this capacity and this length have never been used anywhere else in the world,” he said, adding that the technology was relatively new.

According to Mr Winfield, both options will affect the environment.

Laying underground cables would involve a level of disruption similar to building a motorway, although it would be short-lived. Along with this, excavations could hit archaeological sites.

Overhead lines would involve digging foundations every 300 to 350 metres of the route.

PB Power employed landscape architects, high-voltage transmission engineers and underground cable specialists to compile the report, which identified the most suitable routes.

Mr Winfield said the report made no recommendations and was simply there to put the facts before the relevant parties.

NEPP rejected PB Power’s findings yesterday and claimed that they were fundamentally flawed.

“The report grossly overestimates the cost of operating an underground system and goes in the face of international expert opinion that, while underground may be more costly to build, it is always cheaper to operate than overhead,” the group’s statement said.

Eirgrid will apply for planning permission later this year to An Bórd Pleanála under the critical infrastructure scheme.

Irish Times

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