Carthy calls on minister to appraise himself on level of opposition to North-South Interconnector
Sinn Féin MEP, Matt Carthy, has confirmed that he has written to the new Minister of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton, asking him not to make the same mistake as his predecessors regarding the North-South Interconnector. He urged the Minister to review the current proposals for the Interconnector and to appraise himself of the level of opposition to the plans by EirGrid to impose high-voltage, pylon-supported power-lines through five counties.
Carthy tells the Minister in his letter that the recent publication in the Northern Standard newspaper of FOI material pertaining to correspondenace between EirGrid and officials in the department have now led to a situation whereby confidence in the deparment itself has been serverly undermined. “From reading the FOI material it is clear that EirGrid are under-representing the lack of public acceptance and that many of your officials are taking EirGrid assertions at face value” he says.
The EU representative implored the Minister to review the current approach to the project, to prioritise the principle of public acceptance and to direct government policy to force EirGrid to develop the North-South Intereconnor using underground technology. The alternative, he said “will mean a lot of wasted time, money and good-will with no interconnector in place”.
Below is the full text of the letter from Matt Carthy MEP to Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications, Climate Action & Environment:
I write in relation to the North South Interconnector project and to urge you to take note of the ongoing concerns that have been raised frequently by communities across the five affected counties.
The North South Interconnector is a strategic project with potentially significant benefits for the whole island of Ireland and its energy market.
However, it is my firm belief, having followed developments closely for over a decade that it cannot and will not be delivered under the auspices of the current proposals laid down by EirGrid with the support of your department. Further, it is my view that the project will only be completed when it is developed using underground technology. I say that as someone who has engaged extensively with landowners, adjacent residents and the wider community along the proposed route of the current proposal.
The actions of EirGrid, the state-owned company responsible for the development of this project, have led to considerable distrust with the communities involved. The broad feeling is that communities have never been adequately consulted, that any consultation has been a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, and that the principle of ‘public acceptance’ has never been adopted as criteria by the company. The recent publication in the Northern Standard newspaper of FOI material pertaining to correspondenace between EirGrid and officials in your department have now led to a situation whereby confidence in the deparment has also been serverly undermined. That material has, you should know, presented your deprtment as intent in providing cover for EirGrid rather than delivering the North-South Interconnector or addressing the concerns of local communities.
I am asking you to appraise yourself of the level of public opposition to the current proposals to the North South Interconnector. From reading the aforementioned FOI material it is clear that EirGrid are under-representing the lack of public acceptance and that many of your officials are taking EirGrid assertions at face value.
The report, commissioned by your government and released in October, clearly shows that undergrounding of the North-South Interconnector is feasible. Indeed the report goes for far as to describe it as ‘a credible option’. All of the evidence suggests that, should your department direct EirGrid to proceed on that basis then the level of opposition would be minimal to non-existent and the project would be delivered in a speedy fashion.
While the report authors clearly favour the overhead AC option for developing the project their arguments against proceeding using DC underground technology are in no way preventative. A primary argument, in fact, appears to be that it should proceed by overhead routes because of the lack of Irish experience in using the underground option – on that basis we would never use any new technologies in our infrastructure! The main failing in the report, however, is the failure to consider the issue of public acceptance of the various options available. It is the principle of public acceptance that has driven the use of underground technologies in the case studies highlighted in the report.
One of those case-studies is the ALEGrO Interconnector between Belgium and Germany. Last year, I hosted a delegation of stakeholders and community representatives living along the proposed route of the Interconnector to visit the headquarters of Elia, the Belgian electricity transmission operator, which is responsible for developing that project. The ALEGrO project has many similarities with the North South Interconnector but with one fundamental difference – it will be entirely undergrounded.
At the forefront of the criteria used by Elia to determine the methods of providing infrastructure was the principal of public acceptance.
Public acceptance doesn’t feature on the EirGrid criteria at all. It is clear that consideration for the views of local communities is an important factor that has resulted in the ALEGrO project being undergrounded while the North South Interconnector is not.
Communities along the route of the North-South Interconnector feel their concerns have been largely ignored throughout the process. Unfortunately your predecessors, I feel, failed to grasp the level of opposition to the proposals. I urge you not to make the same mistake.
It is with this in mind that I take this opportunity to write to ask you to review the approach of government and your department to this project. Failure to do so will lead, I have no doubt, to further delay and a significant question-mark as to whether the project will be delivered at all.
If the North-South Interconnector is to be developed it will only be through the utilisation of underground technology. I therefore implore you to direct government policy to that end. The alternative will mean a lot of wasted time, money and good-will with no interconnector in place.
I would appreciate the opportunity to meet you to discuss this matter comprehensively. I will make myself available at any time that your officials can arrange for such a meeting.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Matt Carthy MEP.