Incidences of childhood Leukaemia are higher closer to high voltage overground lines, an Irish delegation was told last week by the company developing an underground interconnector between Germany and Belgium.
Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy led a delegation from Ireland to meet with Elia and representatives of the EU Commission. The delegation was made up of a number of groups including NEPP who are campaigning against the over grounding of the 400 kv wires from both sides of the border. It also included TDs Caoimhighín Ó Caoláin and Peadar Tóibín, MLAs Cathal Boylan and Jemma Dolan and councillors from across the region.
Elia is the transmission systems operator in Belgium - the Belgian version of EirGrid - and the delegation 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 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,” said Deputy Toibín.
“Despite this, the meeting with Elia was in my view eye opening. Elia are currently in the process of building the Alegro Interconnector. ALEGrO will be 90 km, including 49 km in Belgium and 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 per cent of the Belgium network.
Deputy Tóibín said 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 technically feasible 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 undergrounding.
“Elia stated that they used four measures by which to select the technology to deliver an interconnector. It was startling to my ears that they said that one of these measures was public acceptance. The questions 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 used the words childhood Leukaemia. They used it of their own volition without our prompt. The referred to longitudinal meta data which shows that incidence of childhood Leukaemia is higher closer to high voltage overground lines,” he said.
The group also met with representatives of the European Commission and the Irish government’s representative to the EU Commission.
“Interestingly such was the importance of that meeting that EirGrid flew three of their most senior representatives to Brussels to try and counter our arguments,” said Deputy Toibín..
“Given that Belgium seems to be 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 Interconnector 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,” he said.
A spokesperson for EirGrid welcomed the opportunity to highlight the differences between the North South Interconnector and the Alegro project.
He said the Alegro HVDC Interconnector is not comparable to the North South Interconnector.
He said Germany and Belgium already have multiple interconnectors with their neighbours and the Alegro project is tied strongly into the very large European grid and is of relatively minor importance to it.
“By contrast the North South Interconnector will be of the highest strategic importance for the island of Ireland. Implementing it using HVDC underground cable would introduce an unacceptable risk as a failure of such a scheme has the potential to bring down the entire network resulting in an all-island blackout.
“When we manage and develop the grid, we always follow highest health and safety standards. We prioritise the protection of our staff and those who live or work near our lines. The most common concern about our grid is the effect of electromagnetic fields, or EMF. There is considerable international research by independent health and scientific bodies on this topic. There is no evidence that EMF from power lines has any adverse effects on human, plant or animal health,” he said.