Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Ceisteanna (7)

Michael Colreavy

Ceist:

7. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if the Askon report into the undergrounding of pylons will be considered by the independent review group into EirGrid's projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11910/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Communications)

The question asks whether the Askon report into the undergrounding of pylons will be considered by the independent review group into EirGrid's projects. The report was published in October 2008.

EirGrid’s Grid25 plan to upgrade the national transmission system between now and 2025 is a major initiative which will put in place a safe, secure and affordable electricity system throughout the country.

On 28 January last, in response to EirGrid’s recent public consultation process, I announced that I had appointed an independent panel of experts, chaired by Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness, to decide the terms of reference for, and to oversee the integrity of, a process to be undertaken by EirGrid to report on comprehensive, route-specific studies of overhead and underground options for both the Grid Link and Grid West projects under the Grid25 programme. The outputs from those studies, which will be required to be complete, objective and comparable, will be published before proceeding to the next stage of public consultation on the two projects. The two studies will take account of environmental factors, including visual amenity impacts, technical efficacy and cost factors. The panel will have power to commission its own work if there is any perceived deficiency in the studies as presented.

The panel has commenced its deliberations, including settling the terms of reference to oversee the integrity of the process being put in place and considering what work, if any, it might usefully undertake in regard to the North-South transmission line project. The panel’s terms of reference will be published by the panel once they have been agreed. Similarly, the panel's position regarding submissions of material to it, and third party requests to meet it, will also be published once the panel has finalised and agreed its position on these matters.

I should mention that the report to which the Deputy refers was reviewed by the international expert commission for the Meath-Tyrone project in 2011 as part of its work reviewing all relevant reports. The commission questioned the findings and the methodology of the Askon report and reported its observations at some length in its report, which was published on 17 January 2012.

There are a very wide range of views, findings or statements, or whatever we want to call them, when we compare EirGrid's and Askon's analysis and reports on undergrounding versus overgrounding. Askon found that underground cables were better suited to integrating our network. It found that underground was more reliable, that transmission loss was significantly less than when using overground and that underground cables were safer. It found there were obvious environmental benefits and it also found that it could be done at an affordable cost compared with the figures put forward by proponents of overground. When adding to that the damage that will inevitably be done to tourism by overhead cables and the associated pylons, and the damage to property values, it would seem negligent if we were not to look again at the Askon report. While I do not know whether either statement of views is right, I believe we need to look afresh at Askon's report.

As Deputy Colreavy fairly said, there are a wide range of views on this. For a short piece of interconnector line, it must be the most examined and studied line in the history of transmission. If the expert panel under former Supreme Court Justice Catherine McGuinness agrees to look at it, the panel will, as a result, review the reports that are there, and that includes the Askon report.

I presume it is a slip of the tongue by Deputy Colreavy when he asks me to put the pylons underground. Up to now, the demand on me has been to put the cables underground, and I am having great difficulty and pain in responding to that. However, the proposition that I have to put the pylons underground would, Deputy Colreavy might agree, be prohibitively expensive.

It was not a Freudian slip on my part, just a linguistic one.