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Belgium is building what Eirgrid said couldn’t be done – Tóibín

7 September, 2017

Sinn Féin Matt Carthy MEP recently organised a delegation from Ireland to meet with Elia, a Belgian electricity transmitter, and representatives of the EU Commission. The delegation was made up of a number of groups that are campaigning against the over grounding of the 400kv Wires from both sides of the border. It also included Sinn Féin TDs Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Peadar Tóibín, MLAs Cathal Boylan and Jemma Dolan and Councillors from across the region.

Speaking from Brussels, Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín said:

“Elia is the Transmission Systems Operator in Belgium. They are the Belgian version of Eirgrid. We met with them in the Belgium National Control Centre.

“Interestingly, Eirgrid, a semi state company, contacted Elia, a private international firm, in advance of Irish elected representatives from Ireland seeking to learn from Elia. I would be concerned if a semi state company would seek to change the nature and substance of discussions of elected representatives with Elia.

“Despite this, the meeting with Elia was eye opening. Elia are currently in the process of building the ALEGrO Interconnector.   ALEGrO will be 90 km, 49 km in Belgium, the rest in Germany. The purpose of ALEGrO is to join the Belgium and German electricity markets together. The Allegro project’s capacity is 10% of the Belgium network.

“The interconnector will be similar to the North-South Interconnector in distance, capacity and function, but pivotally it will be underground. The experts in Belgium stated that undergrounding such an interconnector is both technically and financially feasible.    

“We detailed the characteristics of the Irish market and, while they would not answer a question on the specific project as no two projects are the same, they stated that none of the elements of the Irish project were barriers to under grounding.   

“Elia stated that they used four measures by which to select the technology to deliver an interconnector. It was startling that one of these measures was public acceptance. The question has to be asked, why is public acceptance central in Belgium and completely absent in Ireland?

“Equally, they stated that there was no organised opposition to the project in Belgium. This is in sharp contrast to Ireland where there is practically unanimous opposition along the curtilage of the proposed interconnector. The other words that startled me was that Elia discussed childhood Leukaemia. They referred to longitudinal metadata which shows that incidence of childhood Leukaemia is higher closer to high voltage over ground lines.

“Another key point that Elia demonstrated is that due to energy efficiency and local microgeneration of energy the necessary capacity of grids does not have to be as high in the future as originally forecasted. We also saw first-hand examples of new technology that has been developed that can double the capacity of existing electricity lines. This to date has not been discussed with regards the potential capacity increase of the existing north south interconnector.

“Significantly, due to public acceptance, the Elia project will be delivered seven years faster than the Eirgrid project. Much has been made of the difficulties in fixing an underground line and, as a result, we asked how often an underground line would break down and be out of service. They said that typically this would be expected to happen 1 in every 120 years.  

“On Wednesday, we met with representatives of the European Commission and the Irish government’s representative to the EU Commission. Such was the importance of that meeting that Eirgrid invited themselves to the meeting and flew three of their most senior representatives to Brussels to try and counter our arguments.

“The EU Commission representatives stated that, with regards the North-South Interconnector, he recognised that there are problems, delays, and increased costs to the state he stated that public acceptance should be necessary. Critically, he said if there was wrong doing in the process, this should be investigated. 

“Given that Belgium is constructing what Eirgrid originally stated could not be done, without public opposition, without any collapse in the value of family homes, business, farms, or the tourism and seven years faster than Eirgrid, given that the over grounding of the North-South Inter connector is opposed by the majority of the Dáil and by Councils along the route, it is now necessary that the government put the brake on the current process and research properly the alternatives.” 

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