I commend Deputy Moynihan on putting down this Private Members’ motion. I fully support his call for an independent international assessment of EirGrid’s Grid Link proposals. There are health concerns about the proposed power lines, as well as concerns about the visual impact of them, which need to be addressed.
One significant issue is the cost of undergrounding the transmission cables. I would like to see this matter examined. In several years’ time, undergrounding of transmission cables will probably be the norm. Already, we see what Tidy Towns committees can do in tidying up the electricity cables in their towns. I would like to see a cost-benefit analysis of the undergrounding option. I support the upgrading of the national grid to ensure security of energy supply. We also need to boost capacity for renewed economic growth and allow for the possibility of increased electricity links across the country.
Fáilte Ireland has raised concerns about the erection of overhead pylons and their possible impact on tourism. Their visual impact on the Comeragh Mountains has been raised on several occasions but there are also walking and cycling routes being developed, particularly in the west, that will also be affected by these power lines. Residents in these areas are concerned that EirGrid has not engaged in proper consultation on the project with many describing it as a farce.
I have read several reports of families in dispute with EirGrid because of the proposed siting of a high voltage pylon 25 m or 50 m near their homes. In one case, a family argued the pylons would have a devastating impact on their autistic daughter. If families go to great lengths to get a house in an appropriate peaceful location for their autistic child, it is unbelievable they could face this further imposition.
There is a level of arrogance in the whole pylon controversy. People get annoyed when they are told that as far as EirGrid is concerned the matter has been settled and they will have to get used to the decision already made. In today’s The Irish Times, an article stated the chairman designate of EirGrid, a former chairman of An Bord Pleanála, John O’Connor, may reconsider taking up the post. This was thrashed out yesterday at the transport committee when there were some suggestions that he might have a possible conflict of interest in his new post. Interestingly, Mr. O’Connor said there would be no backdoor telephone calls or anything underhand during his tenure. Instead of anything underhand, it is a pity these transmission cables could not be underground. Will the Minister confirm if Mr. O’Connor is taking up the post because he seemed to indicate yesterday he would be discussing it with the Minister?
EirGrid has stated there will be a €1 billion investment in the three areas designated for the project, the north east, the west and south east. High voltage pylons running through these areas will form part of the Grid 25 project. While it is designed to boost the network’s capacity and ship electricity from wind farms in the west and south to consumers in the east, a strong lobby has emerged claiming these plans will damage property values and the environment in the areas along the pylons’ routes, as well as presenting health risks. Local action groups want the lines placed underground. EirGrid claims three independent reports state such a move could cost three times more than overgrounding and create ongoing difficulties with maintenance. I would like to see that claim queried by an international independent study.