The panel, consisting of chair Justice Catherine McGuinness, Professor Keith Bell, Professor John FitzGerald, Dr Karen Foley and Colm McCarthy, will then analyse the Eirgrid study to ensure its “integrity”.
It will later report to the minister on the “completeness, objectivity and comparability (underground vs overhead) of the studies” before the projects return for another round of public consultation.
Communities from Cork to Wexford and Kildare have been objecting to Eirgrid’s planned 500m corridor of pylons, Gridlink.
Locals want the 400kV powerlines put underground, but Eirgrid say it would cost €2bn.
In Mayo and Roscommon, local reaction to the €240 million Grid West project has been negative.
The highly controversial issues of electromagnetic fields emanating from pylons and questions around the wider energy policy debate will not be examined by Eirgrid or the panel.
According to the terms of reference drawn up by the commission, in its four meetings since mid-February, Eirgrid is to provide the panel with “comprehensive, route specific studies/ reports of fully undergrounded and overhead options for each of the Grid West and Gridlink projects”.
The report will assess each option’s potential environmental impacts, technical efficacy and cost.
Having examined the reports on Grid West and Gridlink, the expert panel can also “provide an opinion” to the minister on how the findings of the Grid West/Gridlink project may be relevant to the North/South project which has already started and if they could influence its ongoing rollout.
The terms of reference state the underground cable option will be entirely underground.
The overhead line option will be based on HVAC technology and may include re-construction of some existing pylon routes and partial undergrounding for limited sections “where appropriate and feasible”.
The rules governing the commission also state that the expert panel can commission its own work if it wants or if there is “any perceived deficiency” in the studies presented by Eirgrid.
Rethink Pylons spokesman and Ireland South MEP candidate, Kieran Hartley, said the terms of reference “were too narrow” and said “health issues and options other than pylons should be examined”.
“This is just an election stunt. Why were the 35,000 submissions made to Eirgrid not examined before this commission and the terms of reference were announced.
“We are calling on the Government to promise that planning applications will not be lodged until this panels has published its report,” he said.