Power lines debate must be properly decided

An overwhelming 70% of voters want the Government to abandon its plans to erect giant pylons across the country, a survey reported last weekend revealed.

Power lines debate must be properly decided

They apparently want it to be put underground. And yes, they have been advised that it is the more expensive option.

The reasoning behind the strident objections to the pylon option is based on several factors, including health worries, the impact on tourism of having 45m high pylons spread across the country for approximately 500km crossing many areas of considerable scenic beauty, and the impact on the value of people’s homes.

None of these issues should be taken lightly. The fact that Eirgrid’s chairman, John O’Connor, admitted at the Public Accounts Committee “he wouldn’t like to live near the giant pylons” didn’t help matters.

The Government and Eirgrid, which were not for turning, are in a difficult position, particularly coming up to an election. Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte is in a difficult position as he has to face cross-party support for the anti-pylon groups among rural TDs.

So far, Government, has tried to ‘kick the proverbial can up the street’ by announcing the appointment ‘of an expert group to help decide if under-rounding is technically feasible and affordable’. Given that this group will not report back until after the local and EU elections, may well be seen as disingenuous.

Now it is reported that a ‘monster rally’ of all anti pylon and anti-wind farm groups is planned for Easter week, the pressure on the Government and Rabbitte is set to increase.

What does he do? Should he make like Viktor Yanukovych and back off in the face of tens of thousands of citizens’ demands that he stand down? Or should he make like a Vladimir Putin and simply decide what he wants and ignore everyone?

Alternatively, should he take a more strategic approach, accept that the objectors have a point, undertake an indepth, comprehensive and fair assessment of the alternatives and seek wide agreement on the basis of the findings and the recommendations? It will call for a ‘judgment of Solomon’ and I doubt if there is such a being in this government.

It would appear the underground option is considerably more expensive to install, or at least, that is what Mr Rabbitte and Eirgrid have said. It would also seem that the construction period would be much longer, with rights of way and wayleaves obtained and land use agreements completed before any cable can be laid.

However, if the majority of people are willing to pay the additional costs of installing it underground together with possibly greater maintenance costs and put up with possible disruption to supply in the short term and considerable inconvenience when the cables are actually being laid, then what’s the problem? Indeed, it would be fair to assume that the storm damage we suffered recently would not have done nearly as much damage if cabling had been underground.

Given that many countries — including ones where ESB International, is a major part of the electricity supply support structure — utilise underground cables, it would be wrong to argue it is not feasible.

Nevertheless, there are negatives other than cost. For instance, far greater control would be required where excavations are to be carried out. Generally cabling would be located at a depth of 1m to 1.2m as a maximum for technical and performance reasons.

Control of excavations would be far more difficult where there are hundreds of kilometres of cabling in relatively remote areas.

This is a big decision, one with pitfalls whichever way government turns.

We can only hope that whatever decision is taken, it is done for the right reasons and not simply to win an election or two.


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