The communities directly affected by An Bord Pleanála's decision to give planning permission to EirGrid for the construction of overhead powerlines, which will result in the building of 299 pylons in counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, have expressed their anger and frustration about this decision.There is general support for the upgrading of the national grid to ensure security of energy supply and that the North-South interconnector would play an essential role in preventing energy blackouts on the island of Ireland as well as bringing in an increased amount of renewable energy into the system while ensuring lower energy costs in the future.
There is concern around the installation of overhead pylons throughout the State by EirGrid near residential areas and areas of scenic beauty. Locals have expressed their opposition to the scarring of their beautiful historic landscapes with this infrastructure. The undergrounding of the North-South interconnector is the expressed wish of the people who are directly affected. Residents in Meath would be exposed to 45 m high pylons some of which will be only 50 m from people's homes and exposed to potential health risks. Studies have proved the increase in carcinogens in proximity to the electromagnetic fields from power lines. The European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, SCENIHR, found that the previous conclusion that electromagnetic fields are a possible carcinogenic chiefly based on childhood leukaemia results is still valid.
An Oireachtas commission expert report states quite clearly that undergrounding the North-South interconnector is now a realistic solution due to the significant technical developments and the commercial breakthrough of the most recently developed voltage source connector technology. EirGrid originally stated that the cost of undergrounding the cable would be 25 times that of erecting overground pylons. This does not hold true. In its application to An Bord Pleanála EirGrid only made a submission for an overground line. Why did EirGrid not consider the merits or possibility of an underground power line in its application? This is blatant discrimination against the people affected by the North-South interconnector.
EirGrid's inconsistency and overall unwillingness to engage with this is central to why the people of Meath, Cavan and Monaghan feel they are not being treated equally or fairly. People in these counties are asking themselves why no underground cabling proposals are outlined for the proposed North-South interconnector. In April 2015 EirGrid stated that an underground system would cost in excess of €500 million more than the overhead option, approximately three times more than the overground option. Again, this appears to be significantly reduced costs compared with what was previously relied upon to make a decision to go overground. An independent group of experts is now needed to assess the specific needs of the North-South interconnector and to calculate a precise cost estimate. EirGrid cannot be seen as independent when it comes to assessing the costs of undergrounding the North-South interconnector. Since the beginning of the process EirGrid has been intent on placing the North-South interconnector above ground and could be perceived as biased towards this option.
Recent international experience has disproved claims that underground technology is not suitable for developments like the North-South interconnector. A similar project in Belgium will ensure no area of natural beauty will be tainted as a result of the erection of steel pylons. No local resident there will face land devaluation, health issues or a reduced quality of life because of its construction. Why can the communities in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan not be treated in the same way? The international expert commission employed by a previous government found that putting the cables underground was a viable option. Why is there now an insistence that the project must proceed overhead?
There would be benefits in undergrounding that would result in long-term savings and maintenance. Underground networks do not require the same level of maintenance as overhead networks. Underground cables have lower transmission losses and a much longer lifespan than overhead lines. Disturbance to underground cables is less frequent than to overhead cables that are affected by severe weather. This is something we must take into consideration.
The Government should undertake a study to assess the possibility of undergrounding the North-South interconnector. This study should also analyse the possible impacts on the health of local residents and the possible loss of tourist revenue due to the tainting of the landscape by pylons. The cost of delays to this project also needs to be factored in to any costings because the level of local opposition to the pylons will undoubtedly lead to legal challenges. There is general agreement that farmers will not allow these pylons to be erected on their land because of health concerns for their families and their livestock. There is also the fear that the value of their properties will be reduced. The concerns of the residents in these areas need to be taken into consideration and I echo the concerns of the public in their opposition to the construction of these pylons. It is essential that this project is stopped and the people who are directly affected are listened to.