EirGrid starts challenge against Laois plan to lay power lines underground

EirGrid has brought a High Court challenge against Laois County Council's policy that all future power lines over 400kv going through the county must be put underground.

In its proceedings EirGrid Plc claims the policy, adopted by the Council last October, make it impossible for the semi state to fulfil its function to develop, maintain and operate a safe secure, economic and reliable electricity transmission system in the county.

Today the court heard that EirGrid, which has operated Ireland's electricity transmission system since 2006, has major concerns in regards to the cost and environmental implications involved if all lines over 400kv in Co Laois have to be put underground.

In its proceedings, the company argues the Council erred in law by adopting the policy, which it claims is contrary and inconsistent with a number of national plans policies, strategies including the National spatial strategy, regional planning guidelines and the objectives of the County Development Plan.

The policy is included as part of the Laois County Development Plan for 2011-2017.

It was unanimously adopted by the County Council's elected members despite the Laois County Manager's strong recommendation that the policy not be included in the plan.

In a report to the members from the manager Mr Peter Carey the politicians were warned that the inclusion of the policy would jeopardise the redevelopment of the national electricity network, seriously compromise future projects designed to improve problems associated with the increased in electrocute demand in the area and have major negative repercussions for job creation in Co Laois.

The court also heard that as well as EirGrid several other bodies including the Minister for Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, ESB Networks and the Irish Wind Energy Association had taken issue with the policy.

In its action EirGrid is seeking an order from the High Court quashing the decision made by Laois County Council's elected members on October 11th last requiring that all future power lines erected in the Midland County be placed underground.

EirGrid is also seeking a number of declarations from the Court including that the Council has acted outside its powers and made an error in law by adopting the policy to have all future electricity lines over 400kv placed underground.

Nuala Butler SC for EirGrid said it was much more expensive to put lines underground and to service them. In addition it did not make sense to have all such new lines going through Co Laois placed underground while they were overground everywhere else.

The Council's policy would also make it difficult for renewable energy generation projects such as windfarms to link into the power grid, counsel added. Counsel said her client was not opposed to having power lines in urban or places of natural scenic beauty placed underground.

Leave to bring the challenge was granted by Mr Justice Michael Peart on an ex-parte (one side only) basis. The Judge made the matter returnable to a date in January.

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