Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has called on EirGrid to accept international best practice and accept that it does not have the necessary public acceptance to proceed with its plans for the North South Interconnector using high voltage, pylon supported power lines.

The Midlands North West representative was speaking after EirGrid sought to use communications from Elia, the Belgian electricity transmission operator, to deflect from the central lesson learned on a recent visit to Brussels to learn of the proposed ALEGrO interconnector between Belgium and Germany – that lesson being that Elia prioritise public acceptance in their criteria when deciding how to proceed with their projects while EirGrid don’t include public acceptance in their criteria at all.

Matt Carthy said:

“Last month, I hosted a delegation of stakeholders and community representatives living along the proposed route of the North-South Interconnector, where there is considerable opposition to the current proposals for pylon-supported high-voltage power lines.  Those in attendance included representatives from the North East Pylon Pressure (NEPP) group, the County Monaghan Anti Pylon committee, and Safe Electricity for Armagh & Tyrone (SEAT).

“The delegation visited the headquarters of Elia, the Belgian electricity transmission operator, which is responsible for developing the Aachen-Liege (ALEGrO) Interconnector between Belgium and Germany.  The ALEGrO project has many similarities with the North South Interconnector but with one fundamental difference – it will be entirely undergrounded.

“At the National Control Centre of Elia, the delegation learned of the criteria that Elia uses to determine the methods of providing infrastructure. These criteria are similar to what all transmission operators have in place but, at the forefront, is the principal of public acceptance.

“Public acceptance doesn’t feature on the EirGrid criteria whatsoever.  It is clear that consideration of 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.

“European Commission guidelines concerning Projects of Common Interest (PCI) indicate that projects of the size of the North South Interconnector, which cross two Member States, must carry out a process to reach public acceptance, such as stakeholder mappings and feasibility studies.

“As it is respecting the wishes of the public, Elia’s undergrounded project will be delivered at least seven years faster than EirGrid’s overhead project.  EirGrid has ignored the public acceptance criteria and dismissed the concerns and wishes of local citizens.  The company is engaged in a campaign of dismissal and demonisation against those who express an alternative view to them.  Disgracefully they are using public funds to pay for this campaign with a lavish PR strategy that includes countless hundreds of thousands of euro in sponsorship and advertising of their misleading messages.

“In recent days Eirgrid has sought to use communications from Elia, to misrepresent the delegation of Irish activists to Brussels and to mislead the public on this substantive issue of public acceptance.  EirGrid officials confirmed during the hearing in Brussels that they had contacted Elia prior to our engagement with them.  This was obviously an attempt to influence the nature and extent of our discussions.

“The reference in the recent Elia statement to a ‘Sinn Féin delegation’ suggests that the letter of ‘clarification’ was also made at the request of EirGrid.  It wasn’t a Sinn Féin delegation. It was a delegation organised by myself as a member of the European Parliament comprising of community representatives and accompanied by some Sinn Féin public representatives.  The term ‘Sinn Féin delegation’ was never used in my correspondence with Elia but, tellingly, it has been used by EirGrid representatives.

“Surely, EirGrid should have better things to be at.

“The points which Elia ‘clarified’ in its statement were not made by me in my reports of the visit.  I made it clear in all my statements that the meeting with Elia was organised under Chatham Rules and the company did not deal with the specifics of issues pertaining to the North South Interconnector.

“Rather the issues of ‘clarification’ related to reports by people who had travelled on the delegation after the event or at the hearing with the Commission in the European Parliament the day after the visit to Elia.

“It is important to state that the reference to leukaemia was in fact raised by Elia representatives, without prompting, who said that, while the link between overhead lines and leukaemia has never been proven, the company took into consideration the studies related to a link when deciding its options. In fact, the official Elia website includes the following information which is entirely consistent with the reports of delegates to Brussels:

Epidemiological studies have long suggests that there is a small – but nonetheless not insignificant – statistical correlation between long-term exposure to low-frequency magnetic fields on the high-voltage grid and an increased risk of leukaemia in children. We are talking here about exposure in the home over a long period to magnetic field strengths averaging in excess of between 0.3 and 0.4 μT.

Extensive testing of animal and cell cultures since the 1980s has been unable to confirm this theory and as such no causal link has yet been established between exposure to magnetic fields and an increased risk of leukaemia in children. However, in the absence of any explanation for the statistical link highlighted by epidemiological studies, neither has any study yet been able to rule it out.

“I am not aware that anyone reported that Elia stated that there are no barriers to underground the Irish project.  As earlier stated we made it clear in our report that Elia correctly stated that every project is different and that they didn’t deal with the technical issues regarding the North South Interconnector.

However several participants did take the inference from the Elia presentation that they considered that there is an engineering solution to any barriers that may present in any project.  Again, this is wholly consistent with what campaigners and Sinn Féin representatives have always argued.

“I want to take this opportunity to again thank Elia for their facilitation of the recent Irish delegation and of their frankness and welcome.  Their honesty in responding to questions was alien to any of us that have engagements with EirGrid.  I am sorry that EirGrid have dragged Elia into their strategy of seeking divert attention from its own failure to engage with communities.

“Rather than playing their games of deflection EirGrid should now stop spending public money on an excessive advertising campaign and instead adopt the criteria of public acceptable before proceeding any further with the North South Interconnector.

“Failing that, the Irish Government must now direct that the Interconnector is undergrounded in the knowledge that it is the only way that this project will ever be delivered.”

Carthy responds to EirGrid “deflections”

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