On the frontline in battle against EirGrid powerline network

Catherine Ketch talks to sheep farmer Sean Dennehy who already has 17 poles on his property.
On the frontline in battle against EirGrid powerline network

A LEE Valley sheep farmer has found himself on the frontline of the power line controversy. Sean and Colette Dennehy farm mid-season lamb at Shandangan, Carrigadrohid, near Macroom, Co Cork.

With 17 poles on their land already, they now find themselves on the route for the Clashavoon-Dunmanway 110kv line, with construction planned to start this summer.

Incensed by the overruling of local objections to the power line, Sean Dennehy warns that EirGrid will have a problem gaining wayleave, due to landowner resistance.

“They think they’re going to walk in and everyone is going to be happy and smiling and sign up to it, but that’s not going to happen,” he says.

“We’re not giving up. We’re not going to give in very easy,” Sean says.

Still hoping to resist the powerline, the locally-based Communities Before Pylons (CBP) group has asked public representatives to have the Clashavoon-Dunmanway line included in the expert-panel review of EirGrid’s plan to erect a network of high-voltage cables across the country.

“We have power lines already, but nothing like this one. We have one field completely dissected by them. There are 17 poles in the field below the road there,” he says.

For the 40km 110kv five-line project, a series of double poles and one corner pylon are to be erected on the Dennehy farm.

Three of the local farms on the powerline route were also affected by Lee flooding in the 1950s. “They remember what happened years ago, so they’re not very happy about this either,” Sean says.

The Dennehys first learned of the powerline in March 2011. News of the 110kv line came as a complete shock locally. Initially, the Clashavoon place-name was not recognised, as it is taken from a stream, not a townland.

“Clashavoon to Dunmanway meant nothing to us,” Sean says. “The first I heard of it was below in the lambing shed, when the gate was opened, and someone from EirGrid just arrived in.

The line heads east of Macroom before heading south for Dunmanway. “It wasn’t the expected route, so people had no idea it would come this far east to go to Dunmanway,” says Sean.

An oral hearing was held in August 2012, and An Bord Pleanála (ABP) approved planning that October.

EirGrid had advertised a number of possible routes, but local people say they didn’t get in at the stage of the process they should have because they were confused by the Clashavoon placename — a complaint dismissed by ABP.

Sean says. “People that are far away from it won’t say much, because they don’t want it either. When it’s going through your land you’re not a happy camper.”

He believes EirGrid got the route they wanted “They had the route decided. There were still a couple of options, but they were fairly sure of this one,” Sean says.

EirGrid says the new line is needed to back up existing powerlines to West Cork, and to take wind energy from West Cork to the national grid.

Some locals argued that an existing line could have been upgraded.

“We want it put underground,” says Sean, like the gas pipeline from Bandon to Ballineen completed in 2000, which Sean says didn’t raise a murmur from farmers, even when excavations on farmland were left open for 12 months.

Consultants raised the effect of undergrounding on land drains. “But we don’t mind the disturbance of the ground. We can solve the disturbance of the ground. We can solve the landscape. We can fix the stone drains. We can fix everything but we can’t fix the overhead lines,” Sean says.

Residents and landowners organised as Communities Before Pylons made a case for undergrounding to ABP, and a Bord Pleanála inspector strongly recommended burying the powerline between Carrigadrohid and Terelton (including the Dennehy farm). But this was overruled and ABP approved planning.

“Nothing seems to have been taken on board. It’s just a case of ‘we’re going to drive on anyway’,” Sean says. “This was always the desired route,” says Colette. They pay tribute to the work done by CBP members such as Fritz Raake, James Kiernan, Patrick Buck and Eileen Mullane. CBP decided not to appeal, because it would be financially prohibitive.

Sean also claims EirGrid have come on to the land without going through the proper process. “It’s like the energy industry can overrule everybody else,” he says.

The Dennehys argue against the over-grounding of the line on grounds of property devaluation, health risks, and effect on the Lee Valley scenery. “There is no tourism value to the place once you do that,” says Sean. “It is so beautiful around here,” says Colette.

Sean regards the powerline decision as industrialisation of the countryside. Collette is concerned about health risks. “By the time we realise it is a problem, it will be too late for the people affected by it”.

“It’s a big eyesore on the farm. We are farmers. We like to hand on the farm to the next generation, as good if not better,” Sean says.

Farming over 1,000 very prolific Belclare ewes, sheep breeding is a concern for the Dennehys, as is maintaining their Bord Bia sheep meat quality assurance.

“I don’t know how the ewes are going to breed underneath these,” says Sean of the planned power lines.

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