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Belgium visit reinforces position that North-South Interconnector can and must be undergrounded – Carthy

13 September, 2017 - by Matt Carthy MEP

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has again reiterated his position that the North-South electricity Interconnector can only proceed if it’s developed as an underground project.  The Midlands North West representative was speaking following his hosting of a delegation to Brussels last week that heard at first hand of the technological advances available to facilitate the undergrounding of Interconnector projects.

Matt Carthy said:

“Last week, I hosted a delegation of stakeholders and community representatives living along the proposed route of the North-South Interconnector, where there is considerable opposition to the current proposals for pylon-supported high-voltage power lines.

“Those in attendance included representatives from the North East Pylon Pressure (NEPP) group, the County Monaghan Anti Pylon committee, and Safe Electricity for Armagh & Tyrone (SEAT), along with elected representatives, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Peadar Tóibín TD, Cathal Boylan MLA, Jemma Dolan MLA and councillors from across the region.

“The delegation visited the headquarters of Elia, the Belgian electricity transmission operator,  which is responsible for developing the Aachen-Liege (ALEGrO) Interconnector between Belgium and Germany.  The ALEGrO project has many similarities with the North South Interconnector but with one fundamental difference - it will be entirely undergrounded.

“While at the National Control Centre of Elia, the delegation received a highly informative briefing on the undergrounding technology and the cross-border nature of the ALEGrO project.  Crucially, we learned of the criteria that Elia uses to determine the methods of providing infrastructure.  This criteria is similar to what all transmission operators have in place but, at the forefront, is the principal of public acceptance.

“Public acceptance doesn’t feature on the EirGrid criteria at all.  It is clear that consideration for the views of local communities is an important factor that has resulted in the ALEGrO project being undergrounded while the North South Interconnector is not.

“On the second day, participants visited the European Parliament and held discussions with experts in undergrounding technology for high-voltage power lines. The delegation also met with representatives from the European Commission and Irish Government representatives.

The delegates highlighted to the European Commission that the only mechanism for progressing the North-South Interconnector project is via underground cables. EirGrid’s proposals to impose huge pylons across the Irish countryside will be resisted, tooth-and-nail by affected rural communities.

“European Commission guidelines concerning Projects of Common Interest (PCI) indicates that projects of this size, which cross two Member States, must carry out a process to reach public acceptance, such as stakeholder mappings and feasibility studies.

“It is clear that companies that carry out Interconnection projects across the EU must prioritise reaching public acceptance with residents along the proposed routes. The commission conceded that public acceptance is considered an essential tool to enable the smooth and swift construction of an Interconnector project, and efforts are taken to find a solution with the interest of citizens in mind.  As they are respecting the wishes of the public, Elia’s undergrounded project will be delivered at least seven years faster than EirGrid’s overhead project.

“Eirgrid, who attended the hearing in the European Parliament were informed by delegates that their behaviour in Ireland has ignored the public acceptance criteria but, in fact, the company has dismissed the concerns and wishes of local citizens.

“The representatives of the European Commission stated that public acceptance should be necessary in the process of such projects. Critically, they agreed that any allegations of wrong doing in the process would be investigated.  I will be examining all options in this regard.

“The visit has reconfirmed to everybody who attended that undergrounding of high-voltage power supplies is technically and financially feasible and is increasingly being endorsed by experts across Europe. There are no barriers to undergrounding the North-South Interconnector project, other than the arrogant position of Eirgrid, and the inaction of the Irish government on this issue.

“In fact, it is only via the undergrounding option that the North South Interconnector will proceed.  It is therefore the most practical, sensible and economically sound option.

“It is time for the Irish Government to pull the brakes on the current process led by EirGrid and direct that the North-South Interconnector be developed as an underground project.” 

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