Submissions continued to stream into Eirgrid yesterday as the deadline closed for the largest and most controversial public consultation process it has conducted.
Thousands of contributions were received during the extended submission period for the proposed €500m Gridlink project that has proposed running up to 300km of cross-country pylons between Kildare and Cork.
Opponents of Eirgrid’s preferred plan, to erect 45m pylons rather than bury the cables, sought to rally support right up until the 5pm deadline.
Kieran Hartley, from the Rethink Pylons group in Waterford, said it had told Eirgrid the plan would destroy the visual beauty of the Comeragh Mountains and kill a fledgling tourism industry.
He said his group had not been convinced of the need to upgrade the 110kV and 220kV cable network to the planned 440kV system. He said it appeared to be a ‘trojan horse’ for future plans to provide for more windfarms, which would cause further problems.
Mr Hartley said it would not support the alternative — underground cables — until it had been given evidence of the necessity of the scheme.
Right up until the deadline, the Save County Tipperary group was pushing for people in the county to register their objections with Eirgrid. Similar calls were made by the Wexford Eirgrid Action Group and the Comeragh Against Pylons group.
The Wexford group said Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s claim the developments were necessary for job creation ignored the jobs that would potentially be lost in the bloodstock and tourism sectors along whatever route was chosen.
This was supported by the K9 Pylon Prevention lobby group, which is opposed to the proposed route through Waterford and Cork.
Eirgrid said it could not confirm the exact volume of submissions until it had assessed all of the observations it had received. But it said, given the number of communities the proposed routes were likely to affect, the level of interest had exceeded previous consultations. It said tallies would be released in the middle of the year when a report on the consultation process would be published.
Meanwhile, Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte has been accused of dismissing the fears of anti-pylon campaigners as a “whim and passing fashion”.
Fianna Fáil enterprise spokesman Dara Calleary said the remarks showed how “out of touch” and “arrogant” the Government was on the issue.
Mr Rabbitte insisted the project was a major infrastructural investment programme that “you cannot change at the whim of a passing fashion”.
Mr Rabbitte claimed he was referring to the impact the controversy might have on the looming local elections and not belittling the concerns of people whose communities would bear the impact of the hundreds of proposed pylons.
Mr Calleary dismissed the explanation and said that, like the Taoiseach’s claim that pylon investment was needed to help stem mass emigration by creating jobs, it was typical of Government “bullying”. Mr Calleary said the attitude from the Taoiseach and Mr Rabbitte clearly demonstrated that senior Government had no intention of listening to communities and to their own party members about the health, economic and social consequences of overhead power lines.
Mr Rabbitte responded to anti-pylon campaigners’ call for cables to be rerouted underground by saying it was possible, but only if customers were “prepared to take the hit for the next 50 years on their bill”. He said he was not aware of any legitimate health concerns in relation to the pylons.
The minister said Eirgrid still had an “awful lot of hoops” and would not be lodging a planning application until 2016.
He backed Mr Kenny’s claim on emigration saying “if we are going to have social progress and economic development in the regions of Ireland, you must have a power system capable of delivering energy to the regions”.
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