The spectre of giant pylons streaking across the Meath landscape now looks unstoppable, with EirGrid predicting a 2020 start on construction work.
The now resigned Communication Minister, Denis Naughten said last week that proposals by EirGrid to use overhead power lines to build the North-South Interconnector will go ahead regardless of Brexit, despite widespread opposition from local communities. It's unclear how Naughten's departure will affect the project.
The appointment of Dunboyne native, Richard Bruton, as a temporary replacement for Environment Minister, Denis Naughten has been welcomed by anti pylon campaigners.
Padraig O 'Reilly of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign said that the new Minister would at least have "an understanding of the issue."
"He is originally from Dunboyne, where the North South Interconnector starts.
"He knows the people and will understand the issues," he said.
Mr O'Reilly said questions would have to be asked on why Mr Naughten had signed off on pylon procurement for the entire project, before approval had even been granted for the Northern Ireland section of the scheme.
"We have to ask again, why he would sign of on procurement for a jurisdiction where it hadn't been approved," he said.
The North East Pylon Pressure Group has repeatedly vowed to block the project warning that farmers will never allow anyone from EirGrid or ESB to set foot on their lands and warned local Government TDs that it would not be forgotten they hadn't made any stand against the proposals at last week's cabinet meeting.
With the 18 month countdown now underway, a challenge to the project will be heard in the Supreme Court next week and the project will also come under scrutiny before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment.
Minister for Communications Denis Naughten: 'I've given An Taoiseach my resignation' pic.twitter.com/U2ec5i38Af— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 11, 2018
The controversial project comprises a 400Kv overhead line linking an ESB substation in Woodland, Co Meath, with a planned substation in Turleenan, Co Tyrone.
There has been a furious reaction to a Government report that says the undergrounding of the 140km 400Kv North South Interconnector is not a viable option.
“A meaningless conclusion from a stitch-up study,” is how the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign described the report.
“Despite all the manipulation of the terms of reference the study states in black and white that the underground solution is a ‘credible option’.
The North East Pylon Pressure Group said the report published last week serves only to serves to “further antagonise, infuriate and alienate the very public it depends on to progress the project.”
The report concluded that undergrounding was not a viable option, while a second report also suggested when it came to compensating land and homeowners living in the shadow of the Interconnector that “Ireland has a comparatively generous compensation regime in place.”
The findings will heap pressure on Meath's three FG Government ministers who will now feel the wrath of constituents in Meath East and West.
The proposed construction of 400 towers to run between Meath and Tyrone has resulted in a decade long battle between campaigners and EirGrid.
Padraig O'Reilly of NEPPC warned it wouldn't be forgotten that none of our Ministers in the North-East had made any objections or stand against the reports around the Cabinet table.
The first report addressed the technical feasibility and cost of undergrounding the link while the second report considered comparative international practice and approaches to compensation of property owners in proximity to high-voltage lines. The first report has concluded that from a 'techno-economic point of view', an Alternating Current Overhead Line is the most beneficial way of meeting the need for enhanced power transfer capability between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
In terms of comparative international practice to compensation, the second report indicates that Ireland has a comparatively generous compensation regime in place.
Mr O'Reilly pointed out the Minister had struck out of the proposed terms of reference on all issues related to impacts on the environment, landscape, devaluation, health risks, farming, heritage, public consultation and narrowed the first study to a single issue item – an evaluation on the cost and feasibility of overhead vs undergrounding – but refused to accept that a route-specific underground option be analysed.
“The cost of the underground option is claimed to be much higher than the overhead line - if you fail to include any costs for devaluation, impact on farming, landscape, environment and if you refuse to consider the €250million delay costs to date and still rising. And if you use exaggerated/unnecessarily high capacity ratings for comparison,” said Mr O'Reilly.
EirGrid Group Chief Executive Mark Foley said it was reassuring that the commission endorsed the overhead line solution that has received planning approval in Ireland and Northern Ireland: “We welcome the publication of the reports commissioned by Minister Naughten (below), and acknowledge the independence and integrity of the studies.
“We have considered all possible options regarding the delivery of the interconnector and are encouraged that the panel has concluded that an overhead line is the most beneficial way of meeting the need for enhanced power transfer capability between Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
The North South Interconnector is a €286m investment that will connect the electricity grids of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The 400Kv line will run through counties Monaghan, Cavan and Meath in Ireland, and Armagh and Tyrone in Northern Ireland.
“The Interconnector will underpin the efficient operation of the all-island electricity market, fixing a bottle-neck that cost millions of euro every year and applying downward pressure on electricity prices.
“Due to its strategic importance, it is crucial that the North South Interconnector provides a highly reliable link between the two transmission systems on the island.
“The only feasible way to underground such a circuit is to use specialised technology with expensive conversion equipment at each end. Although the study acknowledges there have been developments in this area, in our view it represents unacceptable technical risk and hundreds of millions of euros of extra costs.
“This is a critical piece of infrastructure for the island, which we are committed to delivering; and while we work through legal challenges in both jurisdictions, we will continue our engagement with landowners and the community,” he concluded?