‘Ultimately this is about keeping the lights on’

“THE Government wants to be able to give a strong and consistent message to Irish business and multinationals, and to our citizens, that Ireland’s electricity networks are robust, modern and safe,” stated Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte last week.

And EirGrid is the state company charged by the Government with undertaking this task in the interests of all the people.

We have responsibility for ensuring the safe, secure, affordable delivery of power through the national grid, and that is our only motivation. Ultimately this is about keeping the lights on today, tomorrow and in 20 years’ time.

It is important to make this clear at the outset because there have been inaccurate and misleading claims in recent weeks, as we have continued extensive consultation on key projects in the €3.2bn Grid 25 programme. The reason people are aware of our plans is because we have been engaged in a huge programme of consultation since April of last year.

Grid 25 is being undertaken to meet the long-term needs of households, farms, large and small businesses; to enable balanced regional development, to connect new generation, including wind, and to meet the needs of major companies considering expansion or new investment here.

When a large industrial investor is deciding whether to come to Ireland, reliable, high-quality electricity is always a significant factor. After meeting the IDA, very often the second meeting is with EirGrid to find out whether the grid can meet its needs. It is important to bear in mind these investors are looking for “plug and play” facilities; in other words, they want key infrastructure such as adequate electricity to be available at the outset. Otherwise, they will choose another location, or another country.

Bearing in mind that job creation is the top national priority, EirGrid commissioned a major study on the role of our electricity system earlier this year. Carried out by Indecon Economic Consultants, it found “the majority of [company] executives surveyed indicated that Grid 25 is important to supporting existing jobs and promoting expansion in existing companies, generating new jobs and new investment in Ireland… Hi-tech multinationals require circa 50MW additional capacity to consider a major investment, and our analysis indicates that 14 of 28 locations in Ireland would have less than the 50MW demand capacity required by 2025 in the absence of new investment”.

Therefore, the extensive upgrade programmes, including Grid Link (from Kildare to Cork), Grid West (for much of Connacht), and the 400kV cross-border interconnector project, are not optional extras, or “nice to have” embellishments. If we, as a people, are serious about modernising our economy and succeeding on the long road back to full employment, we must deliver Grid 25.

Of course, major infrastructural development is a legitimate concern for people, especially communities in the path of the proposed new powerlines. But it is important to remember this is not new technology we are introducing. We already have over 6,000km of overhead powerlines, running on double woodpoles and steel pylons, across many parts the country, so these structures are not new or unconventional.

Indeed, overhead transmission lines are the most common solution adopted across Europe and worldwide — in excess of 95% of high-voltage transmission lines are overhead in Europe and construction of 400kV lines is continuing across the EU.

EirGrid is very aware of the concerns that people have, and is committed to doing everything possible to address and allay them. That is why we are conducting such an extensive information and consultation process, with up to five rounds of public consultation as we seek to determine what is the optimum route for these new powerlines. This also means selecting routes as remote as possible from built-up areas, and which do not despoil scenic landscapes.

We also produce extensive research, including by world-leading experts, to assess underground options. This work consistently shows that underground solutions provide an inferior service at significantly increased cost. We are very conscious that many households and businesses are struggling with electricity costs and new businesses are looking for internationally competitive prices. On each project we examine the underground and overground options in detail so on a case-by-case basis we can assess the balance between these different priorities.

We also recognise that some people are genuinely concerned about the electric and magnetic fields, often referred to as EMF, associated with electricity. EMFs arise in every circumstance involving electricity, and many domestic electrical appliances such as electric blankets and microwaves generate higher EMF levels than transmission lines at a distance of 50 metres.

Thousands of studies worldwide have been done on the possible health effects of exposure to electric and magnetic fields. Here in Ireland, in Jul 2010, the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government concluded: “It is simply not possible for the level of energies associated with powerlines to cause cancer. The WHO, ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection), the Irish authorities, and several other international and national radiation authorities consider that the evidence for increased risk of all other types of cancer, as a result of exposure to power frequency EMFs, to be scientifically unconvincing.”

At EirGrid we are a responsible state-owned company and we would not promote these projects if we had any reason to believe they were creating a risk to people’s health or to our natural environment.

We are absolutely committed to engaging with everyone on these projects and would ask people to participate fully in this public consultation process.

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