MEP Mairead McGuinness has said that Ireland could have much to learn from the Danish experience of pylons, “given the country's commitment to renewable energy and associated expansion of the electricity grid.”
The MEP who is meeting her Danish MEP colleagues in Strasbourg this week on the topic said that in 2008 following heated debates and public concerns, the Danish Energy Agency, Energi Styrelsen, produced a set of guidelines on expansion of the grid, including landscape impact.
"These guidelines included a commitment to underground all 400kv lines depending on issues including security of supply, technology and socio economic conditions.
“However, the Danish agency stressed that there were technical challenges and associated higher costs of underground cabling over long distances of 400kv voltage level.”
The Danish experience may provide useful information to assist the debate in Ireland, she said.
“A commitment to reducing the landscape footprint of new grid expansion by undergrounding cables in Denmark was also made where short distances, residential areas or areas of particular national interest were involved. Replacement of masts in a new design or line adjustment over shorter distances, was also proposed.”
Commenting on the health concerns being expressed about overhead high voltage cables, McGuinness called on the European Commission to publish, as a matter of real urgency, an opinion on the potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF).
She explained that the report from the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIH) was due out by the end of 2013, but is now not expected to be published until the end of January.
"Given the debate in Ireland about proposals for new 400kv overhead power lines, the most up-to-date scientific evidence on the possible health impacts of EMF must be made available to the public and to policy makers,” she said.
She said the much anticipated scientific opinion will review the existing Council recommendation on the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields, which fixes the basic restrictions and reference levels for the exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). And she said four reviews of the scientific evidence supporting the Council recommendation have been carried out since it was introduced in July 1999.
"These reviews did not identify any scientific rationale that could justify a modification of the Council recommendation, but they identified knowledge gaps and made recommendations for additional research on the issue,” Ms McGuinness said.
The EU Commission relies on the SCENIHR to periodically review new information that may influence the assessment of risks to human health in this area and to provide regular updates on the scientific base to the Commission.
There are currently two 400kv overhead power lines crossing the country from east to west. It is important that those who live in the region of these existing power lines are given access to the most up-to-date scientific evidence about the possible health impacts.”
Equally, she said, where Eirgrid is proposing to build overhead power lines in a number of locations, there must be access to the latest scientific information.
However, the MEP said there is a responsibility on politicians to listen to public concerns and to provide the best possible information to concerned citizens, “which is why we need access to the best scientific evidence from the Commission. But there is also a responsibility not to fuel concerns or to increase fears among citizens where this is not justified,” she said.
"Given the level of concern and debate about the Eirgrid proposals, clarifying one of the important issues relating to health risks is essential, which is why it is so important that the EU Commission makes this report available as soon as possible to allow for an informed and up-to-date debate on the possible health impacts of EMFs,” she concluded.