By Pádraig Hoare
The chief of EirGrid has said it needs to become much better at engaging communities, as it seeks “significant investment” in the electricity grid around the country to prepare for infrastructure, such as data centres.
Speaking at the power transmission body’s annual conference in Cork, Mark Foley said six regions, including two in Munster, as well as Dublin and the border, needed upgrades, using either the existing grid, or new grids, if the country was to progress economically and socially, up to 2040.
“At EirGrid, we work to ensure that the energy sector of Ireland is fit-for-purpose, today and into the future. As the transmission system operator, we have to make the best possible use of electricity customers’ money and ensure that all investments in the system are truly necessary,” he said.
It will be challenging to persuade communities of the need to upgrade infrastructure, as well as new development, Mr Foley said.
EirGrid projects have been marred by protests and community backlash in recent years, including proposals for pylons over-ground, running from Cork to Kildare, with fears being expressed about the safety of such projects.
Mr Foley said the power operator needed to up its game in bringing communities on board.
“EirGrid had a real, hard look, as well as people in other sectors, at how to go about it. There are a number of key principles: one is that you have to start much earlier in the process. You don’t rock up with a fait accompli.
“Secondly, you have to listen, and part of that skillset is you preferably have people with local roots to do that engagement.
“Thirdly, we’ve got to be open to what we have heard. Fourthly, we have to look at what we give back to the community. It is about a contract between two parties. It has to be: both parties have to benefit in some way. It’s not about big infrastructure on people’s doorsteps. It’s about understanding what the need is, and whether we have looked at all the options, and if we have taken account of what people’s concerns are.
“We have to make communities partners, not just in transmission, but also other pieces of vital national infrastructure, for the whole economy and society.”
A report by EirGrid said there were four possible scenarios for electricity growth over the coming 22 years, ranging from a slow change in electricity generation, due to poor economic growth, right up to a scenario where a strong, growing economy leads to high levels of consumer-spending ability, and a public desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.