Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane has accused Minister Pat Rabbitte of playing party politics and ignoring the real and genuine concerns of local communities in Waterford in respect of EirGRIDS's Grid Link Project for Munster and Leinster.
Senator Cullinane raised concerns with the Minister in the Seanad on Tuesday and asked him to intervene, address the concerns of local communities and consider alternative options to overhead high voltage power lines and pylons.
He described Minister Rabbitte's response as “petty, dismissive and an attempt to play party politics with the issue.”
The following is the text of Senator Cullinane’s speech;
“I firstly wish to state that I have no objection in principle to the new Grid Link Project for the Southeast and the necessary enhancement of supply and expansion of the electricity grid in the South East. The project will involve identifying a number of feasible 1km wide route corridor options for a new 400kV overhead power line linking Leinster and Munster.
“In its Stage One report EirGRID states that the project will;
• Help secure a future electricity supply for homes, businesses, farms, factories and
communities in Leinster and Munster.
• Provide a platform for economic growth and job creation in the south and east of
• Help Ireland to meet its 40% renewable electricity target.
“These objectives are laudable. However, I cannot support EirGrid’s determination to use overground pylons and wires for the entire length of these routes and to rule out the underground option. I intend in the coming weeks to meet with EirGrid representatives, including its chief executive, and discuss with them my concerns in some considerable detail. We have exchanged correspondence on the matter.
“The Minister will be aware that a number of community based groups have been set up to help inform communities of the project and to voice the many genuine and serious concerns communities have about the project.
"I intend to complement in every way possible the community-led campaign of opposition that has manifested itself across the entire length of these proposed new power lines. We are at one with campaigning communities across all affected counties and will continue to use our influence to enhance this community-led effort to secure a rethink of the approach to these planned power lines by Eirgrid.
"It would appear that despite the clearly expressed opposition of thousands of families living close to the proposed routes of these power lines and their support pylons, EirGrid remains fixed on its overhead approach to these projects. Communities the length of the proposed power lines are vehemently opposed to the installation of unsightly pylons and rightly fear for the health of all exposed to high voltage power conduits. They are fearful for themselves, their families and for the children of these communities.
"It is essential we recognise the reality of the outworking of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 which Minister Rabbitte and Sinn Féin opposed and voted against. This legislation facilitates the forcing through of such projects, regardless of the expressed wishes of communities. Real fear and absolute opposition to the overground approach has been voiced along the entire route through county Waterford and other counties in the region. Very large public meetings have been held in several centres. The concern knows no political boundaries and people of all opinions and none are coming together as concerned communities endeavouring to ensure that EirGrid take a different approach.
"There can be no question that there is significant information on record. Eminent professional and well-researched opinion stating there is every reason for genuine health concerns is indisputable.
"These communities are also conscious of the visual impact on their environment of the proposed unsightly string of pylon structures stretching across the beautiful and scenic comeragh area in Co. Waterford.
"We need to respond to the concerns of communities, families and citizens directly affected by the EirGrid proposal. We need to restore access to the proper planning process. I recommend a revisiting of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act by the Minister and his Fine Gael colleagues in Government to ensure delivery in this regard. We need to ensure there is compliance by all wishing to see major projects undertaken and to ensure that communities and citizens have the right to engage as objectors in the normal course. In reality, the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act should be repealed.
"I urge the Minister to listen to the many thousands of voices of concern at the EirGrid power line proposal. This is not an argument against development as made clear in my]opening statement in the course of this contribution. It is an argument for a better way and the Minister should prevail upon EirGrid to take that better way.
"It is feared that the proposed route options are unsatisfactory with potential intrusions to within, in some cases, 50 m of private dwellings and livestock holding areas.
"The comeragh landscape would be severely affected by the presence of overground pylon-supported power line infrastructure along all of the routes under consideration. Their presence would be no more acceptable across the rolling farmlands and scenic river valleys of the proposed new power lines.
"We should note that the Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament has unanimously recommended that the Scottish Parliament adopt a precautionary approach to any and every overhead power line proposal that presents because of its concerns at the health effects associated with living in close proximity to high-voltage overhead transmission lines.
"Tourism will be greatly curtailed if the landscape is blighted with these pylons. Householders and landowners could see the value of their property drop significantly. Planning restrictions will result from the sterilisation of land over a radius out from these pylons. These are all farming counties highly populated with livestock and wildlife habitats. The proposed pylons would represent a blot on the landscape.
"Underground cables have lower transmission losses than overhead lines because, due to thermal reasons, underground cables have a larger conductor and therefore significantly smaller losses. Studies on several 400 kV transmission grids show that the characteristics of underground cables can in many cases be beneficial to the overall performance of the network. Disturbance of underground cables occurs less frequently than for overhead lines. Overhead cables are affected by severe weather. Only outside influences can disturb and damage underground cables. Underground cables are low-maintenance compared to overhead lines.
"Underground cables — at installation — cost more than overhead lines but the fact that they are low-maintenance, have lower transmission losses, have a longer lifespan and no environmental impact, including visual intrusion, leads us to conclude that the initial additional outlay will be offset over time by the many advantages, not least of which must be the peace of mind of our fellow citizens whose understandable and justifiable health concerns will have been met.
"I appeal to the Minister to listen to the views of communities across the South East. I appeal to the Minister not to allow a situation where crass euros and cents would be the sole determinant factor in regard to what means will be employed by EirGrid.
"There are many issues that must be taken into account. We should be looking at the whole life cost over the projected life expectancy of these new interconnectors, power lines, or whatever terminology the Minister wishes to employ. I contend that the cost over the life expectancy, be it 40 years or whatever the case, by comparison between overhead and underground will show, at the very least, a balancing of the books and for the peace of mind, something one cannot translate on to a balance sheet..
"If we were among those families to be affected we would be as vociferous and as determined as they have showing themselves to be. I appeal to the Minister to act responsibly and to respond to the all-elected view, and the opinion of the people of the affected areas, the affected counties and constituencies and use his office to give direction to EirGrid to proceed by underground cabling." ENDS