Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications
Electricity Transmission Network: Discussion with EirGrid
The purpose of the meeting is to discuss with Mr. Fintan Slye, chief executive officer of EirGrid, its current work programme, the impact the construction of overhead power lines is having on or will have on communities and the economics of the energy market in general. On behalf of the joint committee, I welcome Mr. Slye and his officials.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also advise that any submission or opening statement submitted to the committee will be published on its website after the meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call on Mr. Slye to make his opening remarks.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
My apologies to the committee. I will try to go through the presentation in as much detail as I can. Obviously, we will be happy to answer any question that may arise.
I propose to talk a little about EirGrid's role. I will then discuss the Grid25 programme, examine some of the emerging issues related to it and outline international practice. If there is time at the end of the meeting, I will be happy to take questions on anything included in the presentation or anything else members wish to talk about.
EirGrid is a semi-State company and its objective is to keep the lights on. We carry out that work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our control centres in Dublin and Belfast manage the job in a real-time environment. We also look to the future to make sure we have the necessary grid to ensure the lights will stay on ten, 20 or 30 years hence. That is important work.
Electricity is ubiquitous and an essential part of a modern economy and society.
A secure, reliable and affordable power supply is absolutely essential in a modern economy to support businesses, competitiveness and jobs. As we look to the future and consider the grid which will be necessary, where we identify a deficiency, we first consider the extent to which we can upgrade the grid using existing infrastructure. In this regard, we have a massive programme under way. Inevitably, sometimes we will need to build new infrastructure to cater for future needs. When we identify this need, we consider all of the options available, be they overhead or underground. We have no vested interest in a particular technology solution. We are looking for the right answer to fit future needs for all of the people of Ireland. That is our role and what we try to do.
The Grid25 programme is a strategy published in 2008 to consider future requirements. It includes massive investment in transmission infrastructure. The infrastructure is essential to ensure balanced regional development to support industry and jobs throughout the country. It is also essential to ensure a competitive market which will put downward pressure on prices. It will also ensure we facilitate meeting Ireland's target of 40% renewables by 2020. We have a huge natural resource in wind energy and set ourselves a target of 40% by 2020. To do this we must ensure we have the necessary infrastructure in place.
Grid25 is a significant investment of €3.2 billion over its term. It includes more than 200 projects throughout the country from the very small to the very large. It has been under way for a number of years, with a number of significant successes and projects delivered. As I mentioned, we look to upgrade existing infrastructure in the first instance. We have a programme to upgrade more than 2,000 km of transmission lines. To put this in scale, it is approximately one third of the existing transmission system which makes this a very significant upgrade programme.
We also have approximately 8 km of new transmission build. It is fair to say it is the large 400 kV projects outlined on the next slide which have generated significant interest throughout the country and in the committee. I will speak about the three 400 kV projects which are at different stages of development. We have been developing the North-South interconnector, linking county Meath to County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, for a number of years and it is in the final stages of preparation for a planning application which we hope to submit in early 2014.
The next project is Grid West which extends from Carrick on the River Shannon to western county Mayo and will significantly reinforce the grid in the west. It will also enable the harnessing of what is a very significant natural resource in wind energy on the western seaboard and getting it on the grid. We have identified a preferred corridor and are consulting people along the route. We hope to submit a planning application for the project at approximately the end of 2015. We have quite a way to go on this project.
The Grid Link project will extend from County Cork to County Wexford to County Kildare. It was launched in 2012 and we have spoken to people in the larger study area. Most recently, earlier this year we published a number of corridors which took into account the feedback we had received in the earlier consultation. The consultation period, at the request of the committee, has been extended and will close on 7 January 2014, after which we will reflect on all of the feedback and input we receive.
The next slide sets out the project development roadmap we have put in place for the development of transmission projects. We realised they were significant in terms of scale and scope and that it was important we set out how we would consult and engage with people. We set out the steps and analysis in which we would engage, the information we would make available, the opportunities for public consultation and the decision points along the way. We were very clear with people up-front about what the process would involve in the development of these projects. The consultation process and engagement are above and beyond anything put in place to date for an infrastructural project, be it roads or telecoms. Notwithstanding this, we recognise that there is a degree of concern about the information available and are always looking to improve. By way of illustration, the slide shows we have held more than 30 open days and have information offices in five locations. We have held public information events at marts and shopping malls. We have engaged with every local authority along the route. We continue to meet elected representatives, local councillors and community groups on an ongoing basis.
Notwithstanding that the consultation on this project is ongoing and will be until early January, we recognise a number of issues have been raised through the consultation which also appeared in some of the other projects. These are to do with health, undergrounding, visual impact, impact on property, community gain and the consultation process. I spoke a little about the consultation process and have a few slides on the health and undergrounding issues. I will speak about these issues because they have received the most attention. I will be happy to take questions on the other issues later.
We seek to mitigate visual impact through all of the work we do and engage on individual projects with all of the statutory bodies, including Fáilte Ireland which received media attention recently. We are also aware that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources are examining community gain proposals, of which we are very supportive.
In the interests of time I will discuss undergrounding and health, but I am happy to speak about the other issues. It is important to point out that the pylons do not create electric or magnetic fields. It is electricity which creates electric and magnetic fields. It is the same electricity around us every day in this room, our homes and our appliances which causes electric and magnetic fields. Because electricity is so ubiquitous in the world today and has been such an important part of the economy and society, it is one of the most studied health issues of our time. The wealth of studies do not indicate any cause and effect relationship with any health issue. The World Health Organization reviewed this issue and has a set of guidelines which outline the safe exposure limits and transmission is a factor of 50 below the safe exposure limits. The World Health Organization's guidelines have been reviewed by public health bodies throughout the world and endorsed by the European Commission and adopted in this country. We are 50 times below the limits set. These limits are set by bodies the sole objective of which is the protection of human health. The slide includes a quote from the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser. In 2007 a report was published by the Department with responsibility for energy matters and which was responsible for this issue at the time. It was reviewed in 2010 by the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser and the quote is taken from the paper published as part of the review. It states it is simply not possible for the level of energy associated with power lines to cause cancer.
I have pulled out a graph which is part of our communication on electromagnetic fields for anyone who has seen the booklet we produced to inform people.
The top line shows the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection's guideline which is the World Health Organization's guideline of 100 µT. The exposure to various appliances and transmission technologies is shown further down the side. The one at the bottom is for the underground cable which comes in at half of the guideline figure, whereas transmission lines come in at 50 times lower than the guideline. These international guidelines are based on a large body of scientific evidence that is continually reviewed and updated by all of the various organisations involved.
Turning to the question of overhead versus underground, ours is a State company which has no vested interest in a particular technological solution. We consider all of the available options to find the best solution to meet a particular need of the grid and Ireland Inc. In 400 kV alternating current, AC, backbone transmission projects it is possible to underground short lengths along the route. We determine whether doing so is appropriate, as a cost is added and reliability is degraded to some extent. For significant distances of more than 20 km or 30 km, it is not possible to underground AC transmission systems. A different technology - high voltage direct current, HVDC - would be required. We are intimately familiar with it, as it is the technology we delivered for the east-west interconnector. Using this technology involves inserting converter stations that are larger than Croke Park's pitch and nine storeys tall. Energy is converted from the AC grid to DC and shipped via cable to another location were a second converter station is required. It is also worth pointing out that tapping into the energy along the route is difficult and expensive. As such, it does not support the communities and regions along the way by providing them with access to a reliable power source or reinforcing their grids. Notwithstanding this, we have used this technology. The HVDC interconnector with the United Kingdom is one of the most advanced in the world and won engineering project of the year this year.
We conducted a detailed study of the cost of undergrounding the North-South interconnector project. This was followed by a review and a study commissioned by the Government and comprising an independent panel of international experts that examined the cost of undergrounding. The panel concluded that the cost would be a factor of three.
The graph on the next page shows the European transmission system and is drawn from readily available statistics. The majority of the existing grid is overhead AC transmission lines, as is the majority in the planned development, some 97% combined. People often quote Denmark as an example of what can be done in undergrounding. It took a decision to underground its lower voltage transmission network, 132 kV and 150 kV. As these lines reach the end of their economic lives in 2040, it will replace them with similar voltage underground cables. However, it is placing its 400 kV AC circuit overhead. Overhead transmission is the standard technology used across the world, both in terms of what has been deployed to date and what is planned for the future.
Ours is a semi-State company with the role of providing a safe, secure, reliable, economic and efficient grid, having due regard to the environment. Grid25 is a significant investment in the infrastructure underpinning society and the economy. We recognise that public consultation is essential to its successful delivery. We understand a number of issues are emerging from that consultation process and we are listening to and aware of them. However, the process is ongoing and will be until early in the new year, at which point we will take all of the input and feedback on the specific questions that we asked and any other issue that arose about the project's elements or our approach to same. We ask people to raise these points as part of the consultation. We will address all issues raised with us in a fair, balanced, open and transparent way. We encourage people to engage in the consultation process and provide feedback. A number of key themes are already visible, notwithstanding the fact that the consultation process has not closed. We will seek to address them quickly following the closure of the process on 7 January.
I thank committee members for their attention and hope I have not taken too much of their time. I apologise for the delay in supplying the presentation. My colleagues and I are happy to answer members' questions or address issues they wish to raise.
I thank Mr. Slye. Before we begin, I have been told mobile phones are interfering with the online coverage of the meeting. I ask people to move their phones away from the microphones.
We will move on to the next stage. Many Members who are not members of the committee are present, as they want to ask questions. I want to give everyone a fair run. During yesterday's debate with the chairman designate, we limited contributions to five minutes but some took 12. I propose that the leading member of each group or party ask his or her questions in just four minutes. I also ask the officials to give direct answers. We must complete the meeting by 12.30 p.m., when we must leave the room. As I must also ask questions, I intend to stick to the same rules. I ask everyone to be patient in the interests of allowing people to ask their questions.
I welcome Mr. Slye's presentation. I also welcome EirGrid's extension of the consultation period to 7 January to allow for the receipt of submissions following a request from the committee. Mr. Slye mentioned the word "consultation" many times in his submission. What is his view of the fact that, as public representatives, the widespread feedback we are receiving is that there has not been meaningful consultation? In my constituency of County Mayo, I am acutely aware that questions are not being answered or that different answers are coming from different officials. The N26 proposal was turned down because of damage to the environment and its effect on Whooper swans, yet a grid line will run through the exact same area.
There is no meaningful response. As regards the North-South interconnector, there was no consultation with the people of Meath of the type currently being held with other areas. While a decision was taken in 2006 to proceed with this project, the people were not made aware of it until October 2008. The feedback we are getting is that some of the information provided in the booklets supplied to the committee this morning is at minimum confusing and at maximum misleading. For example, it states in regard to the magnetic field that the overground 400 kV lines should be erected 30 meters from where people are living but underground cables are located directly below where people are living. The feeling is that this is not comparing like with like.
I would welcome the witnesses view on the need for independent information. In my view, independent information and a cost-benefit analysis on the underground proposal would be of assistance to all the stakeholders, including EirGrid, the communities and Government. It would provide information on which a decision could be based, which it is not possible to do at this point. I would also welcome the witnesses view on the statement yesterday by the chairperson designate that he would not like to live beside a pylon. Would any of the witnesses like to live beside one?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
I will try to respond to some of the questions and will ask some of my colleagues to respond to others. The first issue raised by the chairman was about questions not being answered as part of the consultation process. Obviously, if this is the case, that is not something we want. We are committed to responding to people's concerns. We will look at that issue and see if there are specific concerns that people want to raise with us. Where queries have not been responded to, we will happily engage on them. We make every effort as part of the consultation process to respond to people's concerns. Often if a request requires detailed analysis it will take some time. We are committed to responding to people and informing them of how long it will take us to pull together whatever information is required. If we are not doing this, we need to improve. From my perspective, it should not be the case that people are left waiting for answers. If specific queries have been raised and not answered, I am happy to look at that and rectify the situation.
Ms Meghan will respond to the question on the North-South interconnector and the consultation in that regard.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
As discussed earlier, there is a roadmap which lays out the consultation process. The North-South interconnector project has been ongoing since 2008. Following the application in 2010, we sought to re-evaluate all of the work that had been carried out since 2008. There have been a number of different reports on the matter, including by the independent expert commission and the Government in terms of its policy statement on energy. In 2011, we published a preliminary re-evaluation report on the North-South project, which went to public consultation for the purpose of feedback on all work carried out to date, including work that had been part of the previous planning application. Since then, we have published a final re-evaluation report, taking on board the feedback received on the preliminary report. The final report also went to consultation for a number of days, including on our website and by way of online telephone calls. This summer we published a third report, which is our preferred project solution report, which again identified the design as it has evolved. It too has been put out for consultation.
We have received a great deal of feedback on this project, which we hope to take on board so that we can complete the process and bring forth a planning application. There has been a significant amount of consultation. There are challenges and obviously concerns have been concerned by the general public. However, when decisions are made information in that regard is presented to the public for feedback and consultation.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
The chairman also commented on the EMF booklet. In general, feedback on the booklet has been particularly positive. However, I will take on board the chairman's comments and see if there is a better way to present the information. We appreciate the feedback and will take on board the chairman's comments in the context of a review of the booklet. The chairman also asked about the provision of independent information with respect to undergrounding. We did extensive analysis of the undergrounding option during the North-South project. An independent commission of experts was appointed by the Government to look at and report on it. One of the themes of the Grid Link consultation is a desire for more detailed information around the undergrounding option. Notwithstanding that the consultation has not yet concluded, we need to reflect on how best we can meet that and ensure that the information is presented in a manner that is understandable by the public and accepted by it in terms of impartial objective transparent information. We need to reflect on what we are hearing in the consultation process on Grid Link. We need to address this.
The final question was about pylons. Personally, I would have no issue living next to a pylon, first, because I know it is safe to do so and, second, because I am in the industry and I understand the direct link between the power on that pylon, keeping the lights on and keeping jobs in my community.
While there are a number of other issues I would like to raise, I need at this point to allow members to put their questions. I will take questions in the following order: Deputy Dooley, Deputy Coffey, Senator Cullinane, Deputy Ann Phelan, Deputy McGrath and Deputy McEntee.
I thank Mr. Slye and his officials for their presentation. The documentation sets out the impact of the magnetic fields and appears to suggest that one would be more affected by an electric blanket or razor. The chairman designate of EirGrid, Mr. O'Connor, appeared before the committee yesterday, at which time he stated that there was an impact on the lives of individuals in terms of loss of amenities and in the value of properties. While I accept the scientific case being made in respect of electromagnetic effects and so on, what is less forthcoming is information on the other impacts of the transmissions lines on communities and individuals, which is in the main the reason people are interested in lines being moved or undergrounded.
Perhaps Mr. Slye, rather than just mollifying people through EirGrid presentations or interface around the issues of public health, would elaborate on how EirGrid intends to overcome these issues, which are a real concern for some people. I accept the science does not support this but I believe there are significant issues arising in terms of visual impact, utilisation of properties and loss of value of properties.
The witness speaks about an independent report that effectively suggested the cost would be three times greater if the cables were placed underground as opposed to overground. Taking the lifetime of the project over the decades it would be amortised, what is cost per unit of electricity? Specifically, what would the difference between overground and underground? Of all the major projects identified under Grid25, how many have been completed, how many are under construction and how many are at a planning stage?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
I thank the Deputy for his questions. He asked about impacts aside from the health issue around overhead transmission. We seek to minimise any of the impacts in a number of ways. In the first instance we seek to keep new transmission towers 50 m away from dwellings as we site the route. As we engage in the process of routing a transmission line we work with all of the statutory bodies to take into account their concerns in addition to working with specific landowners and communities. Where we site a transmission line or tower on somebody's land, we work with the specific landowner to compensate for the fact that the tower is on the land. We make every effort to mitigate the impact these structures have on the visual environment, and part of that in particular areas of scenic beauty may include undergrounding short stretches of the line and, as the Deputy noted, potentially moving the line as well. We do all this to try to mitigate the impact as we go through the process. Part of this includes taking feedback from the consultation process, and we respond to any of this in detail. That is spelt out in a very open and transparent way, and we articulate in clear terms how we have dealt with that feedback as we go through it.
The Deputy's second question concerned the difference in cost. The figure of a factor of three was stated by the independent panel of experts. Taking the three 400 kV projects I noted on the map and assuming for a second that they could be undergrounded and that one is prepared to live with any technical limitations, it would add approximately €2 billion to the cost of electricity. That in turn would add cost to both household bills and domestic energy bills.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
That is no problem.
The Deputy's final question was about the Grid25 project and specifically the number completed, under construction and in planning. I do not have the data today but I can get the exact breakdown. If there is a specific project, the people here may be able to answer it.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
Yes. The Flagford to Srananagh 220 kV line has been completed. There is a significant 220 kV line around the Cork Harbour area to reinforce the connection and facilitate the connection of ESB and Bord Gáis generators in the harbour area. The Lodgewood station was completed 18 months ago, which reinforces the area on the east coast. In the area between the Shannon Estuary and Cork, there are a number of 220 kV stations and some line work that currently has full planning permission and is under construction.
I welcome the engagement with EirGrid and thank the witnesses for the presentation. It is important for public confidence and public information that this engagement continues at every level. I wish to take it a step back to before the consultation period and the very formation of the Grid25 strategy, as well as its strategy. I understand this was adopted in 2008. The witnesses have spoken in general about the need for this grid and investment in order to keep the lights on, and it is also good for jobs. These are generalities that we can all understand and they sound very good, but they are not convincing the public. This is where I see much of the problem. We must get back to the justification for this investment in the first instance, and it must be demonstrated clearly by EirGrid why the strategy is needed.
In this regard, is the investment based on growth figures from 2006 to 2008? It seems fairly logical to think that the economy was booming at that time and there was a much higher demand then than now, as we are in a slump or recession, despite strong signs of recovery. Has the strategy been re-evaluated to analyse the immediate need for the grid and future requirements? In other words, has the strategy been updated? It is a very important question for public information and I am interested to hear the views of the delegation.
Before going to consultation, any reasonable person would expect that a full cost-benefit analysis of all technologies, including overhead, underground, alternating current and direct current would have been carried out and readily available. Has that cost-benefit analysis, including full life-cycle analysis of all extraneous costs, been done? I am sure the delegation has read the committee's discussions in which the concerns of communities were expressed. It is not just the cost of constructing the line, as there is an additional cost for legal proceedings or challenges in the courts, etc. Are these taken into account in the full cost-benefit analysis? That is necessary in order to gain public confidence.
There must be more specific details. The delegation mentioned the North-South interconnector and how the cost-benefit analysis used a factor of three with regard to cost. I am from Waterford and one of the proposed lines would go right through the county. There is an existing corridor in the form of the N25. If a DC cable were put along the route, what would be the cost? I am sure the cost would be smaller if there were no land access issues, because we already have a public highway. These are the kinds of specific detail that should be put on the table so people can clearly see and understand them. This should happen before the next step - where EirGrid is now - in establishing overhead lines. The public cannot understand why we have arrived at that stage without full consideration of the cost-benefit analysis.
I have some criticisms of the consultation stage. We have heard from groups around the country that it seems EirGrid is ticking boxes and going through the motions as meetings are being held. In County Waterford it is proposed that a line will go right through from west to east, but there is no public office there. The people of the county find that very strange. If EirGrid is talking about real engagement, surely it should address basic issues of access to information, and I recommend that it does so.
It was mentioned in the opening statement that EirGrid has no vested interest in any particular technical solution. Is that correct, or does EirGrid have a vested interest in building a line at the smallest cost? I understand that is the policy, and if that is so, it is clear that EirGrid has a vested interest in building the line at least cost, which would utilise overhead lines.
There is a conflict there and we must clarify that, in the interests of public information.
My final question relates to the UG. The witness showed the EMF fields on the various areas and I note the 400 kV AC underground cable is included. Why is the DC not demonstrated? I understand it has much less EMF. That is, as the witness said, possibly the only technically feasible underground solution for long distances.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
I will go through the questions in the order they were asked and answer as fully as I can. The first question was about Grid25 and the fact that it was published in 2008, at a time when the economy was very different from the economy we have today. The Deputy is correct about that. As we take each project forward it is re-evaluated with the best up-to-date information. While Grid25 was a strategy that dealt with the entirety of the grid over a number of years, as we take that down to project level, such as, for example, the Grid Link project mentioned by the Deputy, we study it in the context of the best information we have available. In addition, at each of the stage gates throughout the project we re-evaluate it with better, more up-to-date information if we have it.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
As part of the reports on Grid Link, when we would have published it we would have published the need as articulated, and that would have been based on the information at that time. In terms of our projections of demand growth, every year we publish what is called the All Island Generation Capacity Statement, which contains our view on demand growth for the next ten years. The most recent one was published last January. There is another under development and it will be published in January. That contains our prediction of demand growth across the island. It is based on ESRI data, usually, with scenarios on high and low. That is publicly available information. We use the most up-to-date information to evaluate and re-evaluate projects through it. To the extent that we get better information either in terms of changes on the power system or changes in demand, we factor them in so we are sure that the projects remain robust and the best answer.
The second question, if I understood correctly, was about the analysis of different options that should be carried out and presented on Grid Link before we get to the stage of route corridors. I will ask my colleagues to discuss the analysis carried out on Grid Link and the assessment of the options that was published in the stage one report.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
When we present and bring a project forward it is an indication of a reinforcement required. With the Grid Link project, we start with general study areas and constraint mappings that lead us to route corridors. We publish a number of reports. Within reports, for example, the stage one report which gets us to the point of corridors, we demonstrate the need for the project and how that was developed. We also talk about the alternative technology types, for example, in the Grid West project there are technical reports and summaries on consideration of alternatives. Again, they are developed and continually evolved through the stages of the project. When we produce another report for the next step in the process, the need would again be addressed and the analysis and consideration of alternatives would continue. It is an ongoing process.
We must bring a real project to the public. Rather than saying we have a problem with the grid, we must bring a project that can be understandable so we get to a point where it is understood that we need to link the points from Cork via Wexford up to Dunstown in Kildare. Therefore, it is a project that is understandable. We must then bring through the roadmap we designed to deliver on that piece of infrastructure. It starts at quite an early stage in the process and it is beholden on us, as the Deputy points out, to explain the work that has gone before. We attempt to do that in our stage one report and every report subsequent to that.
I have seen the stage one report. The public cannot understand why a route would not be taken on a public corridor, such as a motorway or a national road. That is not dealt with anywhere in the stage one report. EirGrid goes across country. It dismisses it and moves on. Unless EirGrid practically and specifically carries out a cost-benefit analysis on the options that are available for undergrounding, it will be very difficult to secure public confidence. That is the point.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
That is something we definitely see coming through in the consultation process. There is a desire for greater information on the costs of undergrounding. A suite of studies was carried out by us and the independent commission on the north-south one but, as the Deputy points out, there are specifics associated with each of the projects. That is one of the themes we see coming through and we are acutely conscious of it. When the consultation closes we will look at how best we can address that and respond to it. I absolutely agree with the Deputy that it is causing some concern among the public.
The Deputy mentioned the consultation process and a perception in some quarters that we were just ticking boxes. That is absolutely not the case. This is a huge programme. Each of the projects are massive infrastructural investments in their own right and we have a huge consultation engagement process in place. The purpose of it is to consult and engage with the communities. We continue to learn from that process and we continue to seek to improve it. The comments and suggestions we get here will also feed into that. We are still in the consultation and listening phase on Grid Link. I hope we will be back before the committee some time early next year to talk about, perhaps, what was a difficult consultation phase but the improvements that were made to address the concerns raised through that consultation process. However, we are still in that process and still listening to the concerns. In fairness to the people who have not yet had an input, we have extended the process to 7 January next. We must get all that feedback. I assure the Deputy we are aware of those themes and not immune to them. We are acutely conscious of the need to ensure this is done properly.
The Deputy raised the question of vested interests. We want to get the best solution. We are charged with delivering a safe, secure, reliable and economical grid, with due regard for the environment. Whatever is the best solution that fits that requirement and meets the needs of the electricity system and the people of Ireland is what we are seeking. The phrase "least cost technically acceptable" is one that is used largely with regard to how people are charged for access to the grid. It is an engineering term around that. What we are seeking is the best solution. Ultimately, we must take it through two independent bodies, the energy regulator and An Bord Pleanála, to get it approved, so we have no vested interest in one technology over another. We are just seeking the best answer, albeit that it can sometimes be hard.
Finally, the Deputy asked why a DC cable was not on the EMF A5 brochure. I will ask John Fitzgerald to comment on that.
Mr. John Fitzgerald:
This brochure was an attempt to set out a comparative that is like for like. All of these fields are 50 Hz fields. A DC field is a zero frequency field. This was developed in response to questions and queries on the DC EMF. The fields that are directly above the east-west interconnector cable are of the order of 50 µT at zero Hertz. That is the nature of the fields at full load. The reason some of these are different is that we tried to be true to what they are. The overhead transmission lines are typically away from public areas whereas underground cables are typically in public roads. DC cable is predominantly in the road where possible. The Deputy mentioned the N25. Obviously that is a public space so the general public could be in close proximity to it rather than if it is in a field. That is why they are set out. We could put it on it, but we would need a caveat to say that it is a zero Hertz field.
I welcome the representatives from EirGrid and welcome the opportunity to have this discussion.
Yesterday the committee held a discussion with EirGrid's chairperson elect but I was unable to attend. Two weeks ago we met a number of campaigning groups from across the State and many genuine concerns were raised. I have also attended public meetings, received e-mails and been in contact with people who live along the proposed corridors and routes and people who are concerned about the impact the projects will have on the landscape and built heritage. People are also concerned about potential health risks. Despite what EirGrid says, there will be an impact on the environment and the value of land and property. People have a range of issues and concerns about the matter but I will park them for a second to deal with the immediate priority of the consultation process.
I believe the consultation process is flawed for a number of reasons. The CEO has said that EirGrid does not have a vested interest and he might be correct. However, EirGrid has a very clear policy objective in the methodology used for all of the various projects, including the Grid Link project. We have not held a genuine consultation process on the methodology and whether it will be overground or underground.
I have read the Stage 1 report and know that EirGrid plans to use overhead power lines and pylons in all of the areas, especially for the Grid Link project. We have received different and often slick presentations from EirGrid that stated its nuanced positions. EirGrid representatives have used very clever terminology when they have spoken to the media. We have received different information or certainly I have when we have met EirGrid representatives one to one. For example, the Sunday Independent published an article that quoted senior company executives as saying that EirGrid had no objection to the project going underground. It also quoted EirGrid's transmission project manager as saying:
We are not anti-underground. As part of the assessment of the project we will look at it. We look at cabling, we look at undergrounding – we must consider alternatives.That gave public perception that EirGrid is genuine about examining the use of undergrounding.
Last week, briefing sessions were held for Oireachtas Members and I met EirGrid representatives who clearly stated that undergrounding is not an option for the Grid Link project that covers the south and south east. They said that it was not technically possible. They said that were it to be used, it would only be over short distances of a maximum of 15 km across the entire grid and State. That is its maximum limit for underground AC cables. The perception given to the public and us varies. EirGrid must be clear and honest with people. It must confirm whether undergrounding is suitable for the projects. If undergrounding is unsuitable, then we can have a political debate on alternatives, funding and so on.
EirGrid's argument has a credibility problem. Mr. Slye has said the underground option would be between three and three and half times more expensive. In 2007, EirGrid launched the North-South interconnector project and said it was 21 times more expensive. EirGrid also said it was not technically possible, yet the international expert commission contradicts its statement and claims the project is a viable alternative. Either EirGrid was wrong then or it is wrong now. Which is it? I want an answer. The public will need to know that information to make up their minds on the issue.
The CEO has said a number of converter sites and stations will be needed if DC cables go underground and that these could take up the size of the Croke Park and so on. How many pylons will be stretched across the State? What will be the average size of pylons? I understand the pylons could be up to 43 m high. The CEO said he would not mind living next to them but many people do mind. Many people are concerned about the visual intrusion and the nature of pylons. It is okay to cite a need for a number of converter stations. What about the number of pylons that will stretch across the countryside? Pylons will pass through the Comeragh Mountains in my county of Waterford. The erection of pylons in the Comeragh Mountains is a sore and contentious issue for the people who live in Waterford. Why is the project necessary? Is there a possibility that the electricity generated will be exported and not for domestic use?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
I thank the Senator. I shall try to deal with the issues he raised. His first question was on the consultation process and, if I understood him correctly, the assessment of the underground option for each of the projects. Let me take the North-South project first. We carried out a detailed technical analysis of the undergrounding option and commissioned a report by the international firm, PB Power. The report was updated this year and we have published the results. The Government commissioned an independent expert panel to examine the costs and case for undergrounding. It was the Government that came up with the factor of three for the undergrounding option. As part of the assessment of the project, undergrounding has been extensively evaluated by us and the independent committee that examined the option.
Let me use the Grid Link project as the next example. The project was mentioned because it is in Senator Cullinane's area. It was also mentioned by Deputy Coffey. At the start of the process we examined the matter and assessed different options, including undergrounding using the HVDC technology. We ruled it out and confirmed that in the Stage 1 report on the project.
Notwithstanding, the report that followed a consultation process and the comments and feedback received here earlier, it is apparent to us, and as various Deputies mentioned earlier, that there is a need for further information on the undergrounding option for the different projects. That is one of the themes that came through on the Grid Link project, notwithstanding that consultation on the project has not closed. We need to examine how we can best address the matter.
Is Mr. Slye saying that undergrounding is or is not an option for the Grid Link project? It is either going to be considered or it is not going to be considered. Is it true that EirGrid will only consider short patches of undergrounding with a maximum of 15 km? Is that EirGrid's official position? Mr. Slye said he understood the need for more analysis of the costs and so on and accepted that the project is three or three and a half times more expensive. Was EirGrid wrong in 2007 when it claimed that the project would be 21 times more expensive?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
In terms of our analysis of the underground option, it is important to differentiate between the two technologies of AC and DC. They have very different characteristics and uses. Perhaps we have not been good enough at explaining the differences but I will articulate them.
With regard to AC technology, all of the grid is AC. All of the power generated in the generators located around the country is AC power, as is every single part of the power that goes through the transmission and distribution systems, flows into every home and is used for all the appliances. The grid has an alternating current of 50 Hz.
One can underground the voltage that we are talking about. With a backbone transmission of 400 kV, one can underground short sections of AC. One cannot technically underground the lengths we are talking about for any of the projects, be they North-South, Grid West or Grid Link. The lengths are far beyond what is technically possible to underground using AC technology. The longest AC 400 kV cable in the world is in Tokyo but it is in a large purpose-built tunnel that stretches from the outskirts to the heart of the city. No-one else in the world has built anything even close to that length. In London, one cable just short of 20 km has been built in a tunnel.
That is what is possible in terms of the technology. The amount we can put underground is dependent on two things, one of which is the specifics of the circuit. A line from Carrick-on-Shannon to west Mayo, which is what Grid West is, has a different set of characteristics from a line from Meath to Tyrone. The part of the network it is in is very different, as are its characteristics. That dictates how much we can put underground on a specific circuit. There are technical limits. There is a system-wide limit on the overall amount of cable of this type due to issues such as harmonics that arise with large amounts of cable on the system. That is the situation in respect of AC cables. For any specific individual project, we look to see whether it is being developed as an AC overhead line and whether there are specific sections that should be underground for reasons of special scenic beauty. We will look to see if it is appropriate to put it underground. That requires a compound at each end where we come down off the towers. There is a compound with a cable line interface and it goes underground for a number of kilometres before coming back up.
The other technology is called high-voltage direct current, HVDC, technology. It is a different technology, using direct current, and is different from the power that comes out of the all the generators in our transmission system and is used in our appliances. We need large converter stations to convert the power in our grid into this other form of power and to transmit it over cable. The advantage of DC is that it can be transmitted by cable over long distances, and that is primarily why it was developed - to link transmission grids, typically undersea, over long distances. That is its origin and that is largely where it is deployed today. It was deployed in the east-west interconnector, connecting Meath to Wales. It requires large converter stations on each side. This requires putting in a cable and transmitting it over large distances. Inserting it into the middle of a grid means it has a different set of characteristics and uses different technology from an AC connection between two points. There are significant technical limitations to using HVDC in the middle of an AC grid. We can use undergrounding for short sections of AC without materially changing the fundamentals of the solution being deployed, but changing to DC introduces a whole range of technical issues to the solution, notwithstanding the cost issue, which the independent commission pointed out was a factor of three.
Sometimes we are not good enough at explaining the difference between the two underground options. To go for these long projects underground means adopting and inserting this new and different technology into the middle of the grid, as distinct from short lengths, which can be done as part of the AC grid. I hope that explains the difference between the two and the nuances, or what is perceived to be nuance, of our position on it.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
One of the options we looked at, which is documented in the stage one report, is the HVDC underground option. Among everyone who has spoken, one of the themes is a desire for more information about the underground options. The consultation is still open and there was a debate in the Dáil last night. We must reflect on it and work out how to provide the information or ensure it gets to people and respond to the theme of the consultation. We are acutely conscious that it is one of the things coming through.
Senator Cullinane asked a question about exports. Of the projects under discussion - Grid25, the north-south interconnector, Grid West and GridLink - none is connected with the renewables export initiative that is part of the intergovernmental agreement negotiated between the Government here and the Government in the UK. They are completely separate.
I welcome the EirGrid representatives. It is important to continue to tease out the issues. There are two aspects to what we are dealing with, the first of which is the need for infrastructure and the second of which is the question of where infrastructure goes. One does not need to be an expert to know that pylons do not look nice. Pylons have a downside from the point of view of visual amenity and tourism.
There is broad agreement that we need infrastructure and the case can be made for how to build up the grid so that we have a proper secure energy supply and to address the deficit, particularly into the west and in the area I live, which is Mayo. That is the idea of Grid West.
We can talk about consultation and use words that are clichés because we trot them out so often. We are not getting to the point. The EirGrid presentation states that overhead lines remain the best solution at 400 kV. The EirGrid witnesses are the experts and are telling us this is the best solution. Sometimes we get confused between what is an option and what is not. An environmental statement examines the environmental impact underground and overground. Different options exist. Committee members will not be electricity experts or health experts and we are trying to do our best for the people who elect us. For GridWest, I would like to see EirGrid set out the options from the technical, environmental, visual amenity and tourism, energy security andaccessibility points of view. We should hear the pros and cons of each option for overground and underground. This should include running a DC line from Moygownagh to Flagford. What is the downside to that and what are its costs? The advantage is that we will not have to look at pylons in what is an attractive area. EirGrid is not giving people the options. In respect of the Corrib gas fields, we have learned to our cost in County Mayo what happens when experts come from outside. Perhaps the nation has learned too. EirGrid has already thought about this, and I do not want to detract from their expertise, but there are pros and cons in all the options. The EirGrid representatives have not set out the pros and cons other than in generalities. We need a document that explains the costs of putting a project underground and explains that we will lose out because a certain business will not be able to connect. If a business wants to connect and we only have a DC line, this is what it will mean, with a different type of pylon. EirGrid is not doing this. We can talk about things in this meeting but we need to see the options set out in a paper document. It is a complex matter but it can be set out for people. We will accept EirGrid's points about a constraint on the AC line and the fact that we cannot put more than 15 km underground on the network. If we had point-to-point DC cabling, what would we lose out on? What are the cost implications? It can be called a cost-benefit analysis or whatever, but it should be set out to people.
People see the need, but they differ on the detail. Mr. Slye has said it is three times more expensive. I ask for a paper document setting out the options to let people see the upsides and the downsides. EirGrid is in a position to do this and it is its job to do so.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
I thank Deputy Michelle Mulherin. There is not much with which I could disagree. One of the things coming through in the consultation process and, as I said, the comments here is the need for more detail around the underground option, in particular, for the Grid West and Grid Link projects. As I said, it has been studied in depth for the North-South project, but for the Grid West and Grid Link projects, the detail provided as part of the reports - the stage 1 reports - which looked at a number of options, including HVdc, does not seem to be sufficient or adequate to address the appetite among the public to understand all of the issues involved. Despite what has been a huge effort on our part in the consultation process, it obviously has not met that need and we need to recognise this.
The consultation on Grid Link is ongoing. We will come back to people very soon after the process is closed and articulate how we will deal with all of the concerns expresed. As I said, I hope we will be invited back by the committee early in the new year to talk about the changes we have made to all of the processes to address all of the concerns expressed, perhaps look back on what has been a difficult consultation process around large-scale and very important infrastructure and talk about how that feedback has been incorporated. I take the Deputy's comments on which we will reflect. They are very sensible and we will-----
I welcome our visitors, some of whom have been before us previously. They are very busy people who are trying to do a day's work and make sense of this issue. I welcome Mr. Slye who has apologised for not providing the material for us in advance. He has apologised a number of times for the way EirGrid has got the consultation process wrong. Will it not go back to basics? I have been a member of the committee since 2007 and saw what happened in the case of the North-South project and know what stage it is at. Quite frankly, EirGrid is going nowhere with it and the cost will be huge.
I have been to the control centre in Dublin twice with the committee. It is a very impressive building and much good work is done there where it diverts power. During the height of the Celtic tiger years I never heard any alarm bell or saw flashing amber lights indicating that power was going to be switched off. Will EirGrid be honest with the people? That is very important at this point, given the threat of an outage before Christmas. It should stop using the new mantra - keep the lights on, or ensure the lights are kept on, which is total nonsense. Those involved in EirGrid have not engaged and it is time for them to get down and dirty with the people, stand in their kitchens, take off the suits, put on the wellies and go into farmyards to talk to the people instead of talking over and at them. They have told us about all of the meetings held and the consultations they have had at race meetings, marts and such places. These are not the places in which people want to discuss with EirGrid. If people are at the mart, they want to do business - to sell or buy an animal - and if they are at the races, they want to enjoy themselves. I am being serious. EirGrid is making a mockery of the issue.
Mr. Slye went on national television and spouted a lie about an advertisement carried in the Dungarvan Leader. It was not an advertisement and he apologised off air to the people in the audience after the programme. I want him to apologise at this committee. EirGrid has to become involved. How did it pick the study area? Where was the consultation about which Mr. Slye talked? He talked about all of the meetings EirGrid held and all of the feedback received. What was the feedback? Why was Cork excluded and did the study area not travel out to sea and around to County Wexford? Who chose the study area? In the eyes of the people, all of this is underhand and they are very annoyed and becoming even more annoyed by the lack of engagement.
I met Mr. Slye this day last week in Buswells Hotel when he told me that he would get back to me within a couple of days to arrange a meeting with ten people, but I had said 20 people in a dignified meeting. He does not attend public meetings, although he said he did and wanted to confine the meeting to ten people. However, I have not heard one word from him since. There is no engagement with us either.
EirGrid must build trust. We need to keep the lights on, but it should stop the untruths and answer questions. Senator David Cullinane asked Mr. Slye twice if EirGrid was wrong in 2007 and 2008 when it stated it would be 20 times more expensive and then ten times and seven times. It is now three times more expensive. Can EirGrid admit it was wrong and that it made mistakes? It should empathise with the people.
Yesterday the chairman designate of EirGrid said he would not like to live beside a pylon. He had an outing yesterday, but Mr. Syle is having a more high powered one today. These projects are stuck in the mud where they will stay and sink. EirGrid will not have to underground them because they will be buried. I only hope some of those involved in EirGrid will not be buried with them. I do not mean anything bad by this. The projects are going nowhere; this is a mess.
EirGrid saw what had happened in the economy and how the bankers, regulators and politicians had got away with everything. It thinks it can in a cavalier way ride roughshod over the people. Will it consult meaningfully, engage and stop using highfalutin language which I do not understand about HDdv and so on to confuse people? It should be up-front and honest.
At some of its engagements EriGrid told us we would not have power in Clonmel. Deputy Ann Phelan said yesterday that people in counties Carlow and Kilkenny had been told it would not supply some industries there. Mr. Slye has said clearly that it will not connect with wind farms. It is all a big game played by big business and EirGrid is part of it. Obviously, it will be privatised and the profits will go into somebody else's pocket. The public is not ready for this and will not accept it. I am a Teachta Dála, a messenger of the people, and giving EirGrid the message loud and clear.
Will Mr. Slye answer the questions asked? If he only answers one question, will he answer the one Senator David Cullinane asked him twice, that is, did EirGrid get it wrong when it stated it would be 20 times more expensive, then eight times and seven times? Now the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, who seems to be EirGrid's chief spokesperson is saying it would be three times more expensive. Will Mr. Slye come clean with the people?
EirGrid received an award from Engineers Ireland for the technology used in bringing the interconnector across the sea. Why will it not consider that option in my area and not be selfish? Why will it not bring it along the sea from County Cork to County Wexford, given the novel expert technology used for which it has received awards? EirGrid is not codding me or anybody else. Will it, please, answer the question as to whether it had got it wrong. Did Mr. Slye tell a lie on television about the advertisement carried in the Dungarvan Leader? The newspaper is published outside my area but comes into my parish. EirGrid did not advertise; there was an editorial in the newspaper. Mr. Slye told the many watching that television programme that EirGrid had advertised in that newspaper and I want him to withdraw that statement.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
What I actually said was that in June last year under a headline about the project, the Dungarvan Leader had published a statement that no matter what one thought of EirGrid's plans, one could not but praise it for the openness and transparency of its consultation process. That is 100% true and it was published in the Dungarvan Leader in June last year. As I said, I never said on the "Prime Time" programme or anywhere else that we had advertised. I am just after-----
Mr. Fintan Slye:
Certainly. Deputy Mattie McGrath has said he was in the control centre a few times and that there were never amber lights flashing. Our whole existence is dedicated to ensuring there are no amber lights and that the lights stay on. I know it is trite to say it, but it is incredibly important. It is only when the lights go out that people realise just how important it is. If there is a threat to supply for whatever reason, that is a huge barrier to business, business coming into the country and investment. That very point was echoed by Mr. Barry O'Leary of IDA Ireland recently. We take our job of keeping the lights on incredibly seriously and will continue to do so. We have a large number of people dedicated to this task.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
The Deputy referred to our explanations about AC and DC. As I indicated earlier, we probably have not been good enough at explaining the detailed engineering difference between what are two very different technologies and how they are used in the grid. I think we need to get better at trying to explain that to people. AC and DC have very different characteristics and uses and different advantages and disadvantages. I accept the Deputy's point that it can be confusing at times. The onus is on us to ensure we explain it properly.
The Deputy also referred to profiteering and privatisation. EirGrid is owned by the Government and the Government has been explicit in stating that the networks will remain in State ownership. In any event, we are only the operator of the grid. We do not own it; we do not make profits from the assets that are built. Choosing one solution over another does not change the bottom line. We act only in the interests of the State and the people on the island.
The Deputy also raised the issue of wind farms and the export for sale of renewable energy. All I can do is reiterate my earlier comment that none of the projects in Grid25 is associated with or will connect any of the wind-based generation that is being developed under the renewables export programme, which is part of the intergovernmental agreement being negotiated currently between this Government and that of the UK. They are separate from that.
The Deputy's final question - I apologise if I missed a question earlier - was about the multiple of times for an AC solution versus a DC solution. The figure of a factor of three is not just our number but the number arrived at by the independent commission. In the early stages, the independent commission reviewed - this is available in their report - all of our previous reports and acknowledged that they were sound and robust but that technology had moved on in the period since those reports were produced. The reports to which the Deputy referred were reviewed by the independent commission and was validated by them as robust analysis, notwithstanding the fact that technology had moved on in the intervening period. In recognition of that we had PB Power update the cost in our report and we published that earlier this year. All of that information - the earlier reports and the report of the independent commission, including the commentary by the Independent Commission on our analysis - are available on our website for anyone to read. I am not giving our view of it; I am giving members the view of the independent commission.
Mr. Slye cannot say he got it wrong - terribly wrong. I have said this 20 times, ten times, seven times at committee meetings. What is wrong with W R O N G? The man who never made a mistake never made anything. This is why he continues in fooling the people. Mr. Slye must admit he got it wrong. That is the reason we need total independent analysis now.
This year many of us were at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska in County Laois. A ten-acre sterile area was maintained under lines that are there at present. EirGrid did not want tents, ploughing with horses or machinery, or people underneath their lines. Why was that?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
The independent expert commission appointed by the Government reviewed our analysis - the analysis that the Deputy referred to - and concluded that it was robust analysis. However, technology and the associated costs have moved on, so these costs would be the incorrect now. A multiple of 25 would be incorrect now, but at the time it was sound analysis of the situation as it pertained at that time. That has been backed up by the independent commission, and that opinion is available on the EirGrid website.
The Deputy asked about the sterilisation of ten acres around the site of the National Ploughing Championships. I will ask my colleagues if either of them were aware of that.
Ms Deborah Meghen:
I was not aware that there was sterilisation. I was at the National Ploughing Championships and there were various events adjacent to the existing 400 kV line that ran through the site. The main entrance was at the point at which the line crossed the site. The only work that had been done was in relation to the height of the equipment used for log chopping, as EirGrid needed to check for limits of close proximity to avoid electrocutions and to ensure that high equipment was a safe distance away from the line, as it would be from any power line, whether it be a 400 kV line, a low-voltage line or a 38 kV line.
I want five seconds. Technology has evolved how many times since that evaluation was done. I imagine the difference in cost would now be much less than a factor of three. By the time EirGrid goes to break ground, the cost of the two options will nearly be on a par. I think Mr. Slye has admitted that himself. He will not say the word "wrong", but that is what is wrong with the thing. EirGrid cannot be wrong.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
In recognition of the fact that technology does move on and things change, we updated the report this year. This is available on our website with all the up-to-date information. PB Power, a reputable international company, was commissioned to review our analysis and that information is on our website.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
We keep up to date with technology at all times. As the Deputy and others have pointed out, we were the people who developed and implemented the east-west interconnector, one of the best examples of modern HVDC technology anywhere in the world. We are intimately familiar with its capabilities and what it can be used for. Because we deliver it, we are completely comfortable operating and using it in the right circumstances. Notwithstanding that, we also went out to international consultants to update the cost information. In fact we have in-house some of the foremost experts, the people who are most familiar with modern HVDC technology. We are at the edge of that technology and we understand it. As I said earlier in response to a question, as we progress projects we always look for the best and most up-to-date information, including updated forecasts of demand and economic growth, changes in project needs and what is happening on the system, and also progress in technology. At each stage we examine what has changed in terms of the project, the need or the technology, and we continually keep these things under review.
I thank Mr. Slye and his team for coming before the committee. Obviously this is a very emotive and contentious issue, but I recognise that it is very important. We all recognise the importance of updating and expanding the national grid. EirGrid has an extremely important job to do, but we, as public representatives, have the job of representing the people who have elected us. The people who have elected us do not agree with the process and unfortunately there is no acceptance of the manner in which this is happening. I am speaking about the public consultation process for the North-South interconnector. Mr. Slye stated that it was essential that the process be ongoing and that the issues would be taken into account, but realistically that did not happen for the North-South interconnector following the collapse of the oral hearing in 2010. The public consultation process has been and gone and been and gone again and EirGrid has not addressed the main issue, which is the undergrounding of the cables. If this issue had been addressed there would have been a possible underground route the second time the public consultation came around. I know Mr. Slye has raised issues, such as the need for EirGrid personnel to get on the land and need for environment impact assessments, but that needs to be done for the overhead lines again. I do not have any questions. I think Deputy Mulherin hit the nail on the head. I acknowledge that EirGrid did offer to do the cost-benefit analysis along one of the overhead routes, but this process covers much more than just the North-South interconnector.
We need to see the issues Mr. Slye and others have raised, including the health aspect of the matter, the cost analysis, the visual impact and the impact on land, in black and white. Deputy Mulherin hit the nail on the head when she said we have not yet seen it in black and white. Many people, including those involved in the North-South interconnector and the other proposed routes, would be happy if that were facilitated.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
The North-South interconnector is the most advanced of the three projects I discussed. There has been a detailed analysis of the underground option in that case. We conducted a detailed technical analysis that included an examination of a route. The independent commission, which was appointed by the Government, also reported on the underground option. In the cases of the other projects, questions are being asked about the detail of the information about undergrounding that is available. It is being suggested that such studies were not done. We need to look at that.
The problem I and many other people have is that when the consultation process started again, many overground routes were proposed but no regard was had to whether undergrounding was feasible, or whether it would cost three times or 20 times as much. No underground route was given to people along with the overground routes that were proposed. That is the problem here. If this issue had been raised and addressed, there would have been a possible underground route, even if it would have cost 20 times as much. Perhaps some of the proposed route could have been overground and some of it could have been underground. It was not there. That is the issue. Many people are angry and annoyed that hundreds of thousands of euro were spent on oral hearings over five or six years without an underground option being offered at the end of that process. That needs to be addressed. We need to see that happen as we move forward because it has not happened to date. It may happen in the cases of the other routes that are now being proposed, but it has not happened in the case of the North-South interconnector. Many people do not agree with this process because they were not presented with an underground route. The main issue was not addressed.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
I understand the concerns and issues that have been raised by the Deputy. An underground route was considered as part of the PB Power report that was developed in 2009. The report examined issues like landscape types and how many times such a route would have to cross a road. That was all costed and assessed. The report in question was published at that time and has been updated. The costings were updated earlier this year. That report continues to feed into the process. It will form part of any planning application that is submitted as part of the North-South project. The work that was done regarding an underground cable route, at the time when corridors were being considered as part of the development of this infrastructure, was similar to the work that would have been done for an overhead line. It formed part of the PB Power report, which was open for public comment and has been made available. We will take on board again what Deputy Mulherin said about the need to do this in a manner that makes it easier for people to understand and directly equate to. We will take that feedback on board. The work has been done. The work is still there. It is available and will form part of the planning application for the North-South project.
When open days are held as part of the public consultation process, people need to see that possible underground routes are being addressed in the same way as the overhead routes. If that is happening, it is not coming across to people on the ground.
I will take questions from Deputies Ellis and O'Donovan. I understand that Senator Whelan is allowing Senator Kelly to substitute for him. We will take them as a group. We will allow non-members in after the witnesses have responded to this group.
I thank Mr. Slye and his team for their presentation. Deputy Mulherin made a number of useful points. She suggested that a comparison between the overground and underground options should be laid out clearly in front of people. If that had been done in advance of the consultation process, people would have been able to compare all the options and the costs associated with them. The consultation process would have meant much more in such circumstances. People could have referred to that comparison when offering their opinions. The problem I have is that we are now a bit behind as a consequence of the failure to do this.
I wonder whether the use of the road network as part of the underground or overground options, or a combination of those options, has been examined carefully. It could involve having to run these lines a little out of the way. Has careful consideration been given to that possibility?
I was contacted recently by a concerned person in Midleton who has a son with autism. He is hypersensitive to certain noises and anything like that. It is not a question of being 30 m or 40 m away from one of these lines. People will have to cross underneath them, stand underneath them or drive underneath them. Have the effects of one of these lines on individuals like this person's son been assessed?
The visual impact of these towers must be considered given that many of them are the same height as the Spire in O'Connell Street. If someone asked me whether I would like one of them to be built 30 m from me, I would definitely say "No". Anyone who is honest would say "No". I do not accept that one would look at what will benefit the country. If someone was proposing to run one of these lines through one's family farm that is in one's history, one would have problems with that.
Will EirGrid have any additional powers to access these lands? Will it have more powers than the NRA or Bord Gáis? Will it have any additional powers when it is trying to commandeer lands to develop these lines across a certain area?
When Mr. John Fitzgerald was speaking about the map I am now holding, he said it was a like-for-like comparison. I am a technician by trade. I note the reference to the 400 kV underground cable in the document. We can see the µT effect in that case. It relates to the effect of standing 30 m away from a 400 kV power line, rather than standing underneath it. The comparison would be off the radar if one was standing underneath the line. It would certainly be a hell of a sight more than what is being shown here. It is very deceiving to see that. A television emits a certain level of µT. We can see in the document how much a razor emits. I ask people to imagine the emission one would encounter if one was standing underneath a power line while going about one's business, driving or otherwise. The difference would be massive.
I would like to ask about the company's communications with Members of the Oireachtas. Is there any way we can use a special e-mail address or a special telephone line if we want to put forward ideas? It would be very important for people here who are trying to make a further impact. It would be helpful if a dedicated line of some description were made available.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
Where we identify the need to have expert support on one of the projects, we go out to tender.
We ensure we obtain value for money for the consultants we employ. There has been extensive discussion here and elsewhere of the importance of public engagement. EirGrid engages people to help us in that area, given the scale of the infrastructural roll-out planned.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
In the first instance, I am not 100% sure to which project the Deputy is referring. Second, this matter is covered by commercial confidentiality between the company and its consultants. I am not sure if I am at liberty to provide the information the Deputy seeks because it is commercially sensitive.
How much will consultancy services cost? Given Mr. Slye's admission that the process has not been satisfactory thus far, will EirGrid change the process, recruit new consultants, reopen the tendering process and admit to the joint committee that what has taken place until now-----
The questions were in the context of what was said after Deputy Michelle Mulherin's contribution in regard to the consultation. They were as follows. If consultants were employed, who are they? What is the cost of the consultancy process to date? Has the process been reported to the board? Is the board satisfied with the process as currently carried out? Given what we have heard at the committee in regard to the unsatisfactory nature of the consultation process, has the company decided to employ new consultants and embark on a new consultation process?
I welcome the EirGrid team. I have been watching the proceedings in my office for the past hour and a half. I have a number of questions to which I want answers. There are also a number of observations I wish to make. Following the submission made by Deputy Michelle Mulherin, I believe the Minister would be agreeable to a cost benefit analysis of all three projects. The Minister has said that it is not necessarily accurate to say that if the North-South Interconnector costs three times more to go underground that would be site-specific to Grid West. Will EirGrid conduct an independent analysis of each of those projects?
The witnesses repeatedly say EirGrid cannot go underground for long lengths. Why is that the case? Will EirGrid issue a full report as to the reasons in order that it can be reviewed independently by somebody outside of EirGrid on behalf of the committee?
At all of the consultation processes that I attended, EirGrid continually denied this had anything to do with wind energy. At each consultation process EirGrid said it has nothing whatsoever do with it. When Mr. Fintan Slye was pressed on the issue he mentioned the wind for export. The Grid West project is there to complement the wind energy sector.
Slogans which are selling points state that this is needed for balanced regional development. We do not see balanced regional development outside of Dublin and the major cities here. If we did, projects like this might be more palatable. In my home town, EirGrid say we need the energy. The largest user of electricity in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon, is Arriva, formerly Shannonside, which uses more electricity than the whole of Castlebar. It has installed its own biomass plant to deal with its needs, therefore it does not need the energy.
Mr. John O'Connor said he would not live beside a pylon. Why should anybody be asked to live beside one, if he or se is not willing to do so? Surely his words have damaged the EirGrid project. I do not know if EirGrid understands the huge anger there is over this and the fact that people are getting mobilised on the issue. The delays here will cost quite an amount. In any cost benefit analysis are the costs of the delays being factored in?
The whole consultation process has been seriously flawed. EirGrid should start again. In my area, EirGrid sent out 10,000 letters that were never received. All it wants to do is blame An Post while An Post said it never got the letters to send out. To date, I have not got an answer as to where those 10,000 letters to households went missing. When I get an answer to the following question, I may have to come back to it. Who is funding this project?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
I will start with Deputy Ellis's question which was about routing along roads with respect to undergrounding and overhead and the use of roads such as M9 for Grid Link and the extent to which we consider them. I invite Ms Deborah Meghen to said a few words about routing along roads.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
When we look at routing power lines, we look at routing along roads. As part of the Grid Link project one will notice that one or two of the corridors do, for sections, parallel along the M9. As Deputy Ellis pointed out, the start and end points are slightly different to some of the roads and the routing principles in regard to the development of power lines is slightly different from that of a road. With roads one is looking for low land to minimise cut and fill. It is a different design process to that of an overhead powerline. We are trying to reduce the visual impact. Again, we look to different landscapes where we can look to absorb the powerline within that landscape. Sometimes it is in the higher ground in the background in which one could screen existing powerlines. Therefore, we must take into account all of the different types of routing principles. The Deputy is correct - we look at the existing road network in respect of all our projects. There are sections which parallel but usually for the full length the line is not suitable because of the different end points and different routing principles. It is very much a different type of infrastructure.
Mr. John Fitzgerald:
This comes back to another point made in regard to the EMF descriptions. With underground HVDC we put them predominantly in the roads where we can as it gives easier access. That is the practice. On the East-West Interconnector, 90% of it on land in Ireland is adjacent to the public roads for that reason.
Perhaps I can move on to the EMF question. We have tried to represent it as one would encounter it. Typically the pylons are not in public areas and would be at a remove of 20 m or 30 m. The Deputy said that if it was underneath it would be off the radar. It would not; it would be comparable to an underground AC cable. Perhaps if one was standing underneath it might be 45 microtesla. Depending on the loading of the line, the current on the line is what drives it, but even at full load, the maximum one will ever see on these lines if one was standing underneath them, would be about 40 to 50 microtesla which is a millionth of a tesla, which is the unit. For the AC cable, it is probably the same-----
I was making a comparison of different sources of magnetic fields and it is not like with like. If one was standing underneath when one's car broke down or somebody was working there it is not comparing like for like with what Mr. Slye originally said.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
That point was made by the Chairman at the beginning of the meeting. We will take that feedback and reflect upon the brochure and the representation of the information. That is good and helpful feedback.
There was a question about hypersensitivity to autism which is caused by noise. As part of the planning application we have to deal with any noise effects off the lines and comply with any regulations and to explain that. That will be dealt with as part of the planning process which we have to deal with in a comprehensive manner.
There was a question about additional powers that we may have in terms of access to lands. Perhaps Ms Deborah Meghan will speak about them.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
In regard to infrastructure, our powers are often compared to those of groups like the NRA involved in road construction, but electricity infrastructure is different. The power of the ESB to construct and build electricity lines at the varying voltages is based on the Electricity (Supply) Act 1927. It is a way-leave power as opposed to the compulsory purchase order power which is traditionally used for road projects. It is the right to place an electricity line across people's land. This is an unusual power per se compared to what most people are used to dealing with in terms of roads and CPOs.
Before we move on, can I go back to the question asked by Deputy Ellis, regarding children with autism. Should I interpret what has been said as that EirGrid will take that into special consideration when the lines are being decided? Is EirGrid saying that if there is engagement from a family of a child with autism, it will give special consideration to that in its planning application? In other words, will the pylon be placed farther away or removed due to that?
I know EirGrid looks to engage with people, but what I want to know is whether it is stating here that in such instances the pylon will be moved? I am taking this as an example of a problem people say has not been addressed. Answering this question would be helpful in moving forward on this.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
I apologise. I do not know the specifics of the case to which the Deputy has referred. However, we will make every effort to address such issues and will engage with the specific family in regard to its concerns and will make every effort to alleviate any concerns it has. We recognise these are specific cases and that we need to understand the issue and engage and respond on it. We will do that.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
Sure, and in the case of specific cases like that, we will engage with people on them. I hope this addresses that issue.
Deputy O'Donovan asked whether we had employed consultants. We have consultants employed across the Grid25 programme. They assist us with the consultation process and the routing process and we use them for deep expertise in areas such as ecology and the like as we prepare planning applications and go out to consultation. We discussed earlier the issue of the contract costs for each consultant but I am not in a position to provide information on how much we pay specific consultants. That is a commercial matter between us and those consultants. The Deputy also asked about our ongoing reporting to the board, so that is fully briefed on the Grid25 programme in general and specific projects, in particular the three projects most of this conversation has been about. The EirGrid board has a specific committee, the grid infrastructure projects committee, established to ensure that there is monitoring and oversight of all of the projects and that EirGrid is up to date on where they are.
In her contribution, Deputy Mulherin made some good suggestions on how to improve the consultation process. We have put a consultation process of an unprecedented scale in place and have attempted to engage with people and communities across the affected regions. We continually look for ways to improve that process. I would encourage people to respond to the ongoing consultation, not just in terms of the specific questions asked but to put forward suggestions. We will take on board suggestions on how to improve the process and will get back to people on their concerns. At each stage of the project we reflect on how the consultation went and review it. We will continue to do that and will continue to examine how we can improve our processes to meet the needs of communities. We do that on a continual basis.
I have a brief supplementary question. Mr. Slye has said EirGrid has a specific committee or sub-committee of the board that deals with grid infrastructure. Did that committee ever engage with the people affected. Has the committee ever sat down with the representatives of these communities and groups to hear what we have heard over the past month? I am sure the members of the board are honest, decent people who have the best interests of the company at heart but have they have had engagement with people outside of the company, other than consultants, on this?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
As part of its normal work, the board regularly holds meetings around the country. Earlier this year we were in Cork, Derry, Longford and Galway. It has been out and has engaged with people. Board members are acutely conscious of the scale of this project and the need to ensure we engage properly with the public and communities. To that end, we continually review how we are doing. I report to the board on that and update it.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
Yes. Senator Kelly posed number of questions, the first of which concerned independent analysis for Grid West and Grid Link, in terms of the undergrounding option. As I said earlier, we need to reflect upon what is coming back from this committee and on the debate in the Dáil last night. We also need to reflect on the commitments the Minister gave in terms of feedback in the context of how we can improve our consultation process and how to address the need for detailed information on the underground option. This information was prepared by us and the independent commission on the North-South interconnector. We need to look at how best we can deal with that information for the other two projects. I take the message from this meeting and contributions of members that we need to do that. We do it in a way that provides assurances as to its objectivity, balance and fairness. I accept we need to reflect on this.
A question was asked referring to my earlier answer on a question on the difference between AC and DC and the comments I made about it not being possible to underground long lengths of AC transmission lines. The question asked concerned whether that response could be verified externally. This was the only conclusion of the independent expert panel report commissioned by the Government. That report concluded it was not feasible to do the lengths envisaged in the North-South interconnector as an underground AC line. That is clearly, emphatically and unambiguously stated in the independent expert commission report. Therefore, the issue has been reviewed and externally verified.
With regard to the interrelationship between Grid25 and renewable energy, in particular wind energy, I stated earlier that none of the projects in the Grid25 programme are connected with or have anything to do with the wind export projects, which are centred largely around the midlands.
Those projects are designed to fall under the intergovernmental agreement currently being discussed between the Government and the Government in the United Kingdom. However, as I outlined in my presentation at the start, GRID25 does facilitate the harnessing of renewable energy for domestic purposes. The example was correctly quoted of the Grid West project. While Grid West serves to reinforce the network around the west and in County Mayo, a key part of it is to harness the renewable resources and the wind farms along the western seaboard in Mayo that are planned and under development. The comments on that were correct. This renewable energy will serve domestic needs to meet our 2020 target of having 40% of electricity generated from renewable resources. I reiterate that it is completely separate from the renewable export projects, which are being developed to serve and export to the United Kingdom market under an intergovernmental agreement.
There was a question around balanced regional development. We take seriously our obligations to ensure there is a grid in place throughout the country. Part of the commitment is to facilitate balanced regional development such that the infrastructure is in place to allow companies to invest, grow and provide jobs. Given the fragile recovery we are in at the moment, we take that particularly seriously and we are particularly mindful of it. In advance of the projects going out we engaged with many communities and, in particular, county councils. There was a major desire among those constituencies to have infrastructure brought to areas which had in the past perhaps less than adequate infrastructure. Part of the purpose of GRID25 is to address that need. If a firm is investing in a particular area there are several factors, including access to water and labour, which go in to a siting decision. Another factor near the top of the list is always the quality of secure affordable energy. However, there are other factors which affect any decision.
There was the question about the statement by the chairman designate at this committee yesterday on living close to a pylon. My understanding is that Mr. O'Connor indicated that he would not like to live within 50 m of a pylon. Currently, we keep the pylons 50 m away from people's houses. That is part of how we seek to route transmission lines. When we are going over-ground we seek to route them and keep them-----
I want to clarify that and I hope I am interpreting correctly what happened yesterday. Mr. O'Connor initially said that he would not like to live beside a pylon. At some stage later on in the questioning he indicated the issue of the 40 m or 50 m distance. It is important to give the correct interpretation of what happened yesterday.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
That is no problem. As I said, we seek to keep pylons 50 m from people's houses and in the current projects we are considering that is the case.
There was a question about who is funding the projects. Ultimately, these projects end up on the transmission asset base, which is, ultimately, with the ESB. They are funded over the long term by all electricity customers. Those in the ESB are the people who pay, ultimately. The projects involve capital outlay in the first instance and that is funded during the construction process. For example, there is the cost of building the project and that is funded by the ESB, which actually builds the infrastructure. Then, it transfers to what is called the transmission asset base and the ESB gets a rate of return which reimburses the company for the investment over several years. Reference was made earlier to the fact that typically the projects are depreciated over 30 plus years. I hope that answers the question.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
Earlier this year, in January, we looked to do a maildrop to give information about where people could get information on the Grid West project. It was a general maildrop to over 200,000 homes. We asked An Post to do the maildrop for us and to cover the entire study area. Within that process an element of the study area, as Senator Kelly correctly noted, corresponding to approximately 10,000 letters, missed out on the maildrop. We looked into it. As soon as we found out about it we reissued the maildrop to that area.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
Again, it was based on the map we issued indicating the entire area that we wanted mail dropped. We never sought in any way to exclude anyone from the maildrop. Over 200,000 letters were issued. It was not a specific part of the consultation, it was simply a letter informing people about where they could get information about the project. As soon as we realised the problem, we issued the additional letters, having identified the areas that had been missed.
I wish to put a final supplementary question relating to a response from the project manager for the Grid West project to a constituent of yours, Chairman. He said the project was funded by direct payments from wind developers as well as the bills of the electricity users. Could we get a breakdown of the figures relating to what the wind developers are paying towards this project? Then we will know how much the billpayer will have to contribute. Seeing as the billpayers are contributing, surely they have a right to reject or accept a pylon which they believe to be too close to their home or which could possibly devalue their property. Is that not so?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
We can provide the committee with a breakdown of what has been paid. As I mentioned earlier, the Gird West project in particular facilitates the connection of several renewable energy projects on the west coast. Those involved pay a portion of the costs. I do not have the percentage before me today but we can get back to the committee on that.
I am conscious of the fact that our communities are depending on us to raise their fears and to try to have their concerns addressed. There are very much depending on the committee to be the buffer between them and EirGrid and to try to exhaust all the possibilities that exist before we set the landscape with 43 m pylons.
I am keen to move beyond the consultation process because it does not really matter how long we talk. All that will come out of the consultation process is one question, that is, whether to underground or over-ground. That will be the major and main theme of the EirGrid consultation process and this is the area on which we need to concentrate.
Yesterday, I asked Mr. O'Connor if this was the main theme that comes out of the consultation process whether he would give the committee a commitment that EirGird would consider an independent cost benefit analysis. That would allow us to consider this in an independent way in order that there might be some public acceptance of this project. From where I am standing, there is zero public acceptance at the moment. That is not because people want to be unreasonable for the sake of being unreasonable; they simply believe their concerns and fears are not being addressed.
We really have to do this. Mr. Slye has to take what Deputy Michelle Mulherin suggested on board. He needs to set out for the public every option with its pros and cons, why it can or cannot be done. Will Mr. Slye give us a commitment today to give us an independent cost-benefit analysis of overground versus underground cables?
This grid project will be of no benefit to the resurrection of the beet industry in County Carlow. I want that addressed. I also want the issue of childhood leukemia addressed. Is EirGrid engaging with any oncologists to allay that particular fear?
EirGrid needs to issue a statement pointing out that this project has nothing to do with the project to export wind energy to the United Kingdom because that is in the mix and does not help the situation.
Yesterday the incoming chairman of EirGrid said he would not want to live beside a pylon and asked who would. We did not get an answer from him on how close is close. He said "maybe" 50 metres. "Maybe" is not the best word to use when trying to reassure someone. I advise Mr. Slye to read the Official Report of yesterday’s proceedings. I am disappointed that he has not already done so. If the incoming chairman is not comfortable with what EirGrid plans to do, what is the minimum distance at which Mr. Slye would site a pylon? If something does go wrong will EirGrid indemnify the people of Ireland against any potential damage? When Mr. Slye says that it is three times more expensive to go underground than overground, is that after the route has been decided? The incoming chairman did not answer this question yesterday. Surely before EirGrid decides on a route it decides whether it is going underground or overground? If it is going overground surely it would prefer fairly flat ground, whereas if it is going underground it would want ground that is easier to excavate. The figure seems to change every day but the latest figure that Mr. Slye has come up with is that it is three times more expensive, when EirGrid has already chosen the route that is completely unsuitable for going underground. When did EirGrid decide that it was three times more expensive?
I am not the slightest bit shocked at what Mr. Slye says about commercial sensitivity. This has been said to me several times, whether about Coillte or Roscommon County Council. The only thing that surprises me is that a Government Deputy has a problem with it because I never see any of them rowing in behind me when I say that it is ridiculous that commercial sensitivity should be used as a cloak to cover up for something, when our job is to get this information and bring it back to the public. I am delighted to see a Fine Gael Deputy who is upset about commercial sensitivity. I hope they will be consistent across the board because before today that was not the case.
I thank the witnesses for coming here today. The part of the slide comparing the different sources of magnetic fields is the sort of thing that drives people mad. I am a Deputy for Kildare South which means that the Grid Link project is the one of most interest to me. The last line refers to the 400k VAC underground cable. Everyone accepts that AC underground is not the best way. That diagram is disingenuous. There should be a figure to show what underground DC would be or else do not show it at all. Many groups argue that AC underground will not necessarily work over a long distance.
The reliability of the primary constraints identified and used for mapping by EirGrid is inconsistent in identifying different routes in different parts of the country. Why is that? Is EirGrid trying to identify primary constraints to match potential preferred routes? Great Island in the south east has increased capacity but apart from short-term jobs provided during the construction of pylons, how does this assist job creation in the south east? Is it not misleading to say that it will assist job creation in the south east when, rather than powering down to jobs and job creation there is too much power there, which EirGrid is trying to move away on the 400kV lines?
There are two gas-powered electricity generating systems in Huntstown in Dublin, which I am led to believe do not generate power currently? Why not? Does Mr. Slye agree that this project is about bulk movement of electricity from one point to another? EirGrid’s forecasts for increased demand indicate only approximately 1.3% per annum expected growth in demand over the next seven years. How then can Mr. Slye justify the huge investment in Grid25? Where will the additional revenue be generated by EirGrid to pay for this expenditure? Why do we import rather than export electricity when we have an interconnector and an excess of supply? Is that a matter of cost?
I agree with what others have said about consultation. The point has been hammered home to day so I do not need to repeat it. I believe that a cost-benefit analysis will happen. It has to. I and all my colleagues here today have called for it. Five options for the grid link project are before us but they are all over ground. We want EirGrid to give us a clear analysis of the difficulties involved in over and underground.
The European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity, ENTSO-E, report of 2012, updated in 2013, stated that project 106 will build an interconnector from Dunstown near Kilcullen to Pentir in the UK with a possible third party involvement, a wind generator, to reduce the cost of shared infrastructure; project 107 from Great Island or Knockraha also indicates that an interconnector will be built, linking to France. Will the potential development of the interconnectors at either end of the Grid Link project be factored into the cost of going underground? Will property devaluation be considered in any cost-benefit analysis? EirGrid imports electricity from the UK, based on half hourly pricing, using the HVDC interconnector which does not seem to cause any problems for the grid. Why can we not use that elsewhere?
I apologise to our guests for being late. I was late because there were questions to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in the Dáil at 9.30 a.m. when this meeting began. This is the second time that has happened in two weeks.
Most people I speak to agree about the benefits of this project. There are very few who would disagree. Some might argue with it when we are reaching oversupply but I would be much more critical of under supply. The benefits are not the problem.
We need to learn from what happened in Rossport. If it taught us anything it is that walking over people’s concerns leads to project delays, major cost overruns and reputational damage for this country in respect of project development.
If the situation in Rossmore teaches us anything it is that walking over the concerns of people leads to project delays, major cost overruns and reputational damage for the country in project development. Like the delegate yesterday, I would not like to have a pylon within 100 m of my house. It really annoyed people to hear the argument being made in a television debate that there was no evidence that house prices had been devalued because of the proximity of pylons or wind turbines. It is a self-evident truth that house values are devalued if in close proximity to pylons and the opposite opinion should not be used as an argument.
We should examine the actions of government rather than attack individual companies. In the absence of a landscape management strategy from the Government, we will constantly be responding to the actions of individual companies. We are allowing companies to take the initiative rather than the Government and telling companies what we want to do.
I am astonished to hear that this work has nothing to do with wind energy production. Does this mean that electricity generated using wind turbines will never travel on these lines? Does it mean that other sometimes parallel lines will be used to carry power generated by wind energy? I do not understand these things because I am not an engineer. Ten years ago when I was a county councillor in County Leitrim I proposed that any road development should include a roadside service duct. That motion was accepted by Leitrim County Council and presented to the then Government, the response of which was that it would be too expensive. Would it still be as expensive today? Is that not the strategic planning in which we need to engage for this and other projects?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
I will begin with Deputy Ann Phelan's questions. She asked about the consultation process. She referred to Deputy Michelle Mulherin's contribution and the analysis of placing lines underground as opposed to overground. This is one of the themes emerging from the meeting, communities and the ongoing consultation process. It was also raised during the Dáil debate yesterday evening. We need to reflect on the issue and work out how to provide the information for the public and communities in an objective, understandable and balanced way. Once the consultation process has concluded, we will reflect on the issues raised and address that concern. The consultation process is ongoing and was extended at the request of the committee. We need to hear people's views. As I said, we will be happy to come back at the conclusion of the process to articulate the changes we plan to make. It is hoped it will be a conversation about the positive changes that will have come about from a difficult consultation process as a result of the feedback received from the committee and through the various channels used in the process.
Deputy Ann Phelan specifically asked about County Carlow and the sugar beet project. The infrastructure being constructed across all of the projects will reinforce the grid and improve its ability to support industry. On the question of the most appropriate way to connect a specific project such as looping into one of the lines under construction or running it from an existing sub-station which has been reinforced by the new infrastructure, it would depend on the economics of the project. I would be happy to discuss the specific case with the Deputy in an offline setting. This infrastructure reinforces and improves the grid and its ability to support new demand. By way of context, there are 19 customers around the country who are connected directly with the transmission system. They tend to be very large users of electricity or for whom a high quality supply is particularly important. Otherwise, people tend to rely on the grid to provide power through the distribution system. I am not sure if that answers the Deputy's question.
My point is that the project is being sold to the communities as a vehicle for economic recovery and that it will create jobs. I am using the sugar beet industry as a specific example in my community that if we support the project, we may be able to deliver jobs. The community needs to know how this can be achieved by the project. There is no point in Mr. Slye or me going to the community and asking about specific requirements. If EirGrid wants to have the goodwill of the community behind a project such as this, people have to see the benefits. If they do not see them, why would they want the project in the first place? That is my argument.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
I understand the Deputy's point. I have noted in other contributions the need for EirGrid to improve communication of information on the specific details. I will reflect on how we can do this better because it is a good point.
The Deputy asked whether EirGrid was engaging with oncologists to determine the health effects. Dr. Mezei is a medical doctor and a scientist and I ask him to comment on our work in that field and the current scientific thinking.
Dr. Gabor Mezei:
It is a pleasure to be here. I am a senior scientist in an independent engineering and scientific organisation called Exponent. I am also employed by EirGrid. I am here to be a resource and provide independent opinion on potential health issues related to EMF, electric and magnetic fields. I am a medical doctor and have a doctorate in epidemiology from the University of California, Los Angeles. I have 20 years experience in conducting and analysing environmental health studies. I spent 13 of those years involved in the specific field of EMF.
This is an important issue because we are surrounded by electricity. Therefore, we are exposed to EMF, mostly during the day, and the issue of potential health effects is of public concern. In the past 35 years literally thousands of studies have been published of the potential health effects of EMF on the human population. A number of national and international expert panels organised by health or scientific agencies have examined the evidence in the body of studies available and they have all concluded that there is no cause and effect relationship between EMF and any health outcome. More specifically, the World Health Organization has concluded following its in-depth review of the scientific literature that the evidence does not confirm the existence of health consequences from exposure to EMF.
Dr. Gabor Mezei:
That literature was reviewed by the WHO in 2007.
Most of the studies were available at that time. The literature was also reviewed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. Taking into account the totality of evidence, the conclusion was reached that there is no cause and effect relationship in respect of childhood leukemia.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
Several members pointed to issues with how the magnetic field is presented in the graph at the back of the EMF brochure. We will reflect on that and get back to the committee.
Deputy Phelan also suggested that clarity is required in regard to the wind export issue, as reflected by the amount of discussion we have had on the issue here today. There certainly would seem to be a need for greater clarity for the public.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
Absolutely. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan had several questions, including one as to whether power lines will be sited at a minimum distance from houses. We do not locate those lines within 50 m of residences. In the case of the North-South interconnector, for example, the planning application for which we are finalising, there is provision whereby no towers will be located less than 50 m from dwellings.
Deputy Flanagan also asked whether it was appropriate to use an overhead corridor for the assessment of an underground route. I hope I understood the question correctly.
My point was that surely a decision should be made to as to whether a project will be underground or overground before the route is chosen. EirGrid, having chosen its route, is now saying it is three times more expensive to go that route. That does not seem to be a logical approach.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
What the Deputy has described is correct. In the case of the Grid Link project, for instance, we looked at all of the options, as set out in the stage 1 report, and concluded that an overhead line route was the most appropriate. That is the genesis of the route corridors that have been put out to the public, which are overhead route corridors suitable for an overhead line route.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
We have had a good deal of discussion here on the need to provide more detailed information regarding the undergrounding option on the Grid Link project. If we were to look in detail at an undergrounding option, we would not just assume that any of those overhead corridors would be the underground route. The Deputy makes a good point that what is suitable or appropriate for an overhead route is not necessarily the same as what would be suitable or appropriate for an overhead route.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
The factor of three I used today comes from the independent expert commission report commissioned by the Government to examine the case for and cost of undergrounding the North-South interconnector. The commission concluded that it would be three times more expensive than the overground option. That is the genesis and origin of the factor of three to which I referred today. Apologies if I confused in any way the analysis of different options. The Deputy makes a good point about the analysis of underground versus overhead. Perhaps I need to-----
Mr. Slye is from a different communication school than the witness from whom we heard yesterday. Mr. Slye has agreed with nearly everything everybody has said today and seems to love listening to us.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
We operate the transmission system and ensure it is developed and operated within all of the relevant national and international guidelines. Those guidelines were set down and developed in the first instance by the World Health Organization and adopted by the European Commission and by this State. We comply with all of the guidelines and will continue to do so, such as they are or such as they might change into the future.
I now find myself supporting the appointment of the chairman designate, because he is the only man who seems to tell us the truth. As he said, he would not live beside one of these pylons in 1 million years. His appointment is looking better all the time as this discussion goes on.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
Across the various different projects, the mapping constraints look at a range of environmental factors such as designated special protection areas, high ground, large urban centres and so on. There is a variation in the constraints when one looks at the different county development plans across the various projects. We take on board all the feedback from those county development plans and input it into each of the projects. As I said, there is perhaps a little consistency between some of the county development plans and how they apportion different landscape types, visual amenities and so on.
We take all of those data on board and input them into our geographic information system, which is a multi-layered system that analyses all the different constraints. These would include primary constraints such as, for instance, the Comeragh Mountains, Wicklow National Park, the Blackstairs Mountains, towns, special protection areas and so on. Then we look at all the other layers of constraint below the primary. In the case of the Grid Link project, we are talking about a data indexing system that has nearly 120 different layers of information and data that are inputted into the process of evaluating and identifying potential corridors to route power lines. It is an open and transparent system. All of the information on constraints mapping - where it comes from and how it is developed - are available in the stage one report. In addition, the constraints reports that were published for both projects sought feedback and input as to how we should evaluate those constraints. We also sought input, as part of the stage one report, on how we might evaluate the corridors. It is an ongoing process and there is a huge amount of work and information available on it.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
Part of the function of the transmission system is to move power from where it is generated in large quantities by generators to where it is needed in towns and counties around the country.
As the committee is aware, SSC is developing a new and very large gas-fired power station in the Great Island area. As we speak, that plant is coming on stream and I understand it is due to enter operation early in the new year. Power from the plant will feed into the transmission system. Obviously, the Grid Link project will also move some of that power around the country. The project will also provide support and the highways of power to ensure that the grid right around the area will be reinforced and capable of handling the additional load which might arise as a result of a large industry that needs access to large amounts of power siting its operations there. It serves the dual functions of the movement of generation out to load and supporting and reinforcing the grid in the area.
This is a 400 kV line so it will involve taking bulk transfer away form the south east where it is currently being generated rather than supporting industry in the area. Deputy Ann Phelan referred to the possibility of a sugar beet plant being developed in Carlow. This could be also developed in Kildare, one never knows. If it were developed in those locations, it would not be able to access the 400 kV line because it is bulk transfer. Is that correct?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
It may not access it directly but the fact that it connects to the station in Wexford provides a bulk in-feed into the grid there. This, in turn, supports and reinforces the grid in the area. Typically, a specific industry would not connect to a 400 kV line. It can do so but typically it would not. There are many more 110 kV and 210 kV lines around and large industries would usually connect into these rather than a 400 kV line. However, it provides a bulk in-feed that supports the entire area.
The Deputy referred to Huntstown, which is near Finglas in north Dublin. He is quite right in that there are two generating stations at this location. I do not know if the stations are running today. They bid in, as do all generators, regarding the price at which they are prepared to generate power. What we do is select the most economic set of those generators on any given day in order to supply power. Depending on the price they bid in, they would or would not run on any given day. To be honest, I just do not know if they are running today. Information on whether they are running is available through the Single Electricity Market Operator, SEMO, website. After the fact, people can visit the website in order to discover what was the actual output of any of the generators available. If there is a specific query, I can discuss the matter with the Deputy afterwards. I am not sure whether I have fully answered his question.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
Yes. The Deputy also inquired about growth forecasts. When Grid25 was developed and published, the economy was in very different shape than is currently the case. As I articulated earlier, we always use the most up-to-date growth forecasts available and we continually examine individual projects to reassess their needs, the technology involved and anything else that is changing. I also mentioned the fact that these forecasts are published.
Deputy Heydon also inquired about importing and exporting power on the east-west interconnector, which has been running since earlier in the year. The majority of the time it imports energy from the UK into Ireland. That is price driven and, as a result, it is driving down prices here. We carried out an analysis in respect of its first two months of full operation which indicated that it was leading to reductions of the order of 7% in the wholesale price. When it is relatively windy here and if there is an excess of wind energy or if the wholesale price of energy here drops, the flow reverses. This is particularly the case overnight when demand here is lower. That is how the east-west interconnector operates at present.
The Deputy's final question related to Grid Link and to a number of possible further interconnection projects that are currently being explored. He referred to the ENTSO-E ten-year network development plan in this regard. We are actively looking at the possibility of establishing a new interconnector to France from either Waterford or Cork. We carried out initial feasibility analysis on this matter approximately two years ago and this indicated that such a interconnector would deliver benefits to consumers on the island of Ireland as a whole and, potentially, to consumers in France. We have since taken that analysis to the next level of detail and are working with our colleagues at RTE - not to be confused with the national broadcaster here - the system operator in France. We are seeking to further develop the detailed desk-top analysis of what an engineering solution for an interconnector to France would look like, what would be the costs involved and what would be the benefits to users in both countries. We want to see if it stacks up as a project and the current indications are that it does. Any developments in respect of this matter will feed in to our consideration of other projects, as has been the case to date.
I presume the cost of building any further interconnectors would be factored into any cost-benefit analysis. Obviously, one of the main deterrents against running HDVC lines underground is that which relates to the cost of building new interconnectors. If we are considering building interconnectors at either end of the Grid Link project and particularly if we allow for the fact that this will probably happen in any event, surely this would greatly diminish the cost of putting lines underground.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
To be honest, the cost will probably not materially change. What needs to be taken into account in the context of a HDVC scheme is the fact that there are converter stations at either end and that there is a cable running between them. If we put in place a HDVC interconnector to France from Cork-----
Mr. Fintan Slye:
-----to the extent that it does affect or could reduce the cost, we will absolutely take that into account. I will be happy to discuss the matter with the Deputy after the meeting and indicate why I do not believe it will have a huge material effect.
The final set of questions came from Deputy Colreavy. The Deputy expressed general concerns with regard to the consultation process. As stated earlier, the consultation on Grid Link is ongoing. We will need to reflect upon what emerges from that and there are certainly some themes coming through, both from what members are saying today and from communities. We will be obliged to reflect on all the feedback we receive. When the consultation process is complete, we will also need to consider the major themes that emerge and seek to address them quickly and expeditiously. We are committed to doing that.
Deputy Colreavy also referred to wind energy. This comes back to Deputy Ann Phelan's point. We obviously need to become better at explaining the position in this regard, particularly as questions continue to arise. None of the Grid25 projects, either the three under discussions and any of the others, is associated with the wind export projects being developed or progressed by a number of developers and that are envisaged to fall under an agreement between the Irish and British Governments. Those are the facts of the matter with regard to Grid25.
Will Mr. Slye confirm that the cables that will be used for Grid25 - regardless of whether they run above ground or underground - will not carry current generated through the use of wind energy?
Is it a technical limitation or a policy? Is there a possibility that there will have to be parallel lines to carry wind?
Mr. Fintan Slye:
While none of the Grid25 projects are associated with the renewables export projects in any way the Grid25 programme and specific projects in particular do facilitate the harnessing of renewable resources for domestic use, for example, the Grid West project extends the grid from the Carrick-on-Shannon area to western Mayo. It reinforces the grid all around that area and a key part of it is that it does facilitate the harnessing of the considerable renewable resource on the western seaboard and bringing it into the rest of the grid. Renewable energy is a key part of the grid and the transmission system and the power system we have and that will continue to grow as we look to meet our 2020 targets.
Perhaps I am dense but I do not understand this. There is a wire carrying electricity and windmills creating electricity. Is Mr. Slye saying that because the electricity is designated for export that either technology or people have decided it will not be carried on those wires? If it is not to be carried on those wires, will there be a parallel set of wires to carry electricity for export? Why do we need two sets of wires instead of one?
I am sorry. I did not get a response to the final point. If EirGrid is looking at the possibility of undergrounding, will it consider roadside multi-purpose service ducting? That is possibly something that could be spread over a number of different services.
Okay. It is a quick question. Mr. Slye said the distance was 50 m. The pylon might be 50 m away but the line itself might be only 30 m away. Is it the case that could happen? How was the distance of 50 m arrived at? What is wrong with 51 m or 49 m?
Ms Deborah Meghan:
A number of different figures have been in the public arena. Some people referred to a 23 yd. or 25 m distance based on the Electricity Supply Act in terms of limits of close proximity to power lines. In other words, from a safety point of view - to prevent electrocution - one must take care if one is building something very close to a line. There has been some confusion about the limit. In EirGrid we try to maintain as big a distance as possible from existing houses when we design new lines.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
For visual amenity, as has been described in the committee. We try to maintain as great a distance as possible from all constraints, be they houses, special areas of conservation or archaeology. The primary aim of any routing, whether it be for a power line, road or gas pipeline, is to avoid as many things as possible. The primary routing aim is based on mitigation by avoidance, to maintain as great a distance as possible. We try to maintain a distance of at least 50 m from new transmission lines when we seek to route them. That is the aim.
We will now have to rely on the goodwill of the company that could not get it together to deliver letters to tell us this was going to happen to ensure that EirGrid does not locate the pylons closer than 50 m. I am sorry but my confidence has completely gone.
EirGrid has acknowledged that the consultation issue must be addressed. I wish to speak about County Monaghan in particular because it did not get the early consultation process that is now being afforded to the Grid South and Grid West projects. In 2007, three corridors were presented at a meeting of Monaghan County Council and there has been no consultation on those study areas. It has been said that the North-South project is the same one that was initially proposed but given the fact that there is no substation in Kingscourt it could be argued that it is a new project and that it should also receive the same consultation on the study area as the Grid South and Grid West projects are being afforded. Government policy states that early consultation with local communities must happen but it did not happen in the case of the North-South project in terms of County Monaghan because there was never consultation on the study area. I urge EirGrid to carry out consultation because the people of County Monaghan deserve to be consulted on the overall study area in the same manner as Grid West and Grid Link south.
It has been established that the North-South interconnector can go underground. EirGrid’s own report, the PB Power report, did an analysis and a detailed costing saying it would cost five times the amount. The independent expert commission report said it would be three times the cost. Both reports state that it is feasible to put the lines underground. One can only do a cost-benefit analysis if it has been established that it is feasible to do it. In terms of the North-South interconnector, this is the only one where it has been confirmed as being feasible. Each project is unique.
In terms of a cost benefit analysis it would make sense to carry it out on the North-South interconnector project to take into account the different issues, including the impact on tourism and the restrictions on future land use. Mr. Slye might comment on those issues.
I want to echo some of the points made by Deputy Humphreys. Following the aborted oral hearing in 2010 EirGrid introduced a new methodology of engagement; it was all about the consultation roadmap. That had not applied in the previous engagement with the people in the communities who were to be affected along the Meath, Cavan, Monaghan corridor. Deputy Humphreys makes an excellent point. It is not a case that can just be argued. Factually, what we are looking at in terms of what Mr. Slye has now presented is different from what had previously presented. The substation at Kingscourt is gone, and if we examine the trajectory as presented in the most recent mapping, it clearly is not reflective of what had been previously considered. We are looking at what may be a common intent in terms of a North-South 400kV interconnector but in terms of what EirGrid is doing and how it is progressing that, it is a different project. The people of the north east are equally entitled to the same engagement as has applied or is to apply in regard to Grid West and Grid Link south. It is very important that we are treated with equality and that our position and concerns are equally respected. I again make the case to Mr. Slye that it is hugely important that that process is reopened for the people of the north east and that that is done as a signalled intent out of today's engagement.
We should make no mistake that we were presented with what is to all intents and purposes a fait accompli in terms of the approach. At no time was there any public engagement as to the overground or underground options; it was this way or no way. We were told we could have our input on the route but at no time have the communities affected been engaged with regarding the real options, and there has never been a costing carried out on the undergrounding of the North-South interconnector. There is no substantive independent international opinion on the actuality of costs to be incurred by an undergrounding approach. It is important that EirGrid has significantly reduced its own evaluation of the comparative costs of overground-underground from anything up to ten or 12 times. It is now down to the international expert commission's view of some three times but it has never factored in, nor did the commission, the potential costs in regard to delays, court challenges, appeals and so on. We should make no mistake that because EirGrid has succeeded where politics has failed for over 90 years in uniting whole communities irrespective of their political differences, I can assure Mr. Slye, without any question, that that is something he should factor in to the real costs that will present in regard to EirGrid's stated intent.
With specific reference to the Grid Link project from Kilcullen to Cork and a motion debated last night and to be continued tonight, the Government's policy statement is that the grid development must be delivered in the most cost efficient and timely way possible but it goes on to call on EirGrid to fully engage with potentially affected communities and to examine impartially the case for all achievable engineering solutions. I put it to Mr. Slye that the public is of the view that EirGrid has made up its mind that the lines will go overground. Moreover, a large section of the public are of the view that EirGrid has made up its mind on the actual route. I put it to Mr. Slye that unless the line is put underground, EirGrid will not be in a position to satisfy the demand of the public. Regardless of the consultation process that takes place, that is a circle that cannot be squared. We can discuss the various aspects of this but, ultimately, people want the line put underground but EirGrid will not do that unless it is directed to do so by Government.
Mr. Slye stated that the full line could not be put underground but can part of the line be put underground? The Kilcullen to Cork route is approximately 216 km. What proportion of that route can be put underground on a continuous basis?
The motion also calls for an independent international assessment of EirGrid's proposals. Would Mr. Slye be happy with that? Would it help EirGrid's case if an independent assessment was done because the public do not believe that EirGrid is impartial in this project?
When I met Mr. Slye at the one-to-one briefings in Buswells Hotel I stated that EirGrid representatives should attend the public meetings in addition to the one-to-one meetings. It is important that it hears what the members of the public have to say on this issue.
On the point Deputy Flanagan made about the three to one comparison, that may not be an accurate comparison because EirGrid is doing a comparison based on the overground route chosen between South and North and the cost of that if the line were to be put underground. If the line were to be put underground that might be done on a different route where the same constraints might not be encountered. Is it fair to say that the three to one factor is built on sand, so to speak?
I thank Mr. Slye for his presentation. I will put my questions as we are pressed for time. What is the cost per linear metre of the UG 400kV HP DC cables running from Rush, County Dublin, to Woodland, County Meath? What compensation would be given to each landowner per pylon and what would be the annual remuneration, if any? Will there be any additional compensation during the construction phase similar to the Bord Gáis and National Roads Authority, NRA, guidelines? Has an assessment or analysis been carried out of the health implications in terms of how close a dwelling can be to overhead 400kV power lines, with particular regard to the electromagnetic field, the extremely low frequency, the maximum allowable decibel level at the dwelling nearest the overhead 400kV power lines in the worst weather conditions, for example, fog, winds greater than 80 km/h or heat above 25o Celsius at distances of, say, 50 m, 100 m and 400 m to allow us draw comparisons in that regard?
I asked Deputy Ellis to put a number of questions as I had to leave the meeting for half an hour. If Mr. Slye has answered them I will read the transcript. One was about a health analysis and the implications for children with autism who have hypersensitivity. That may have been dealt with. The other question was whether EirGrid has any powers beyond those currently enjoyed by the NRA and Bord Gáis relating to access and entry rights to land. The final question was on a dedicated e-mail address for Oireachtas Members. If those questions have been addressed I will read the transcripts for the replies.
The Deputy stated that. Before calling Mr. Slye I will ask another question that has arisen with regard to Grid West. EirGrid is ignoring signs people have put up outside their houses stating that they do not want EirGrid officials visiting them. Mr. Slye might clarify that as it is an issue that has been raised with us as public representatives. I ask Mr. Slye to be as direct as possible with the questions from the four Deputies because we are caught on time.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
As I said earlier, the North-South project has been set up considerably longer than the other two, Grid West and Grid Link. When we withdrew from the application process in 2010 we went to a re-evaluation process on the entire project and part of that was publishing a number of reports, which closely equate to the reports we publish today on the existing projects such as the stage 1 and stage 2 reports. We published a preliminary re-evaluation report in 2011, which gave all the information about the project from the study area, all the route corridors to the preferred corridor and we asked for comment and feedback on that. We then issued a final re-evaluation report this year in which we sought comment on all aspects such as the study area, the corridors, technology and everything that had gone before in that regard.
During the later part of the summer, we moved to the final stage, in line with Stage 3 of our roadmap, which is about confirming design, when we issued the third project solutions report and looked to doing the detail, that is, considering the devil in the detail at that point, by considering specific design requirements and communicating and dealing with landowners in that regard. We now move into Stage 4, which is the preparation for our planning application. Although some reports may not state they are Stage 1 or Stage 2 reports, they have been quite closely aligned to the new roadmap, taking into account the history of the North-South project itself. There has been quite extensive consultation on that in the past two to three years.
Ms Deborah Meghan:
As part of the preliminary re-evaluation report that was published in 2011, we put out for consultation the question of whether the study area was big enough and whether we needed to expand it. We asked for feedback in respect of the specifics of the study area. Obviously, a study area is determined first and foremost by one starting point and endpoint. As those two points must be included, one is talking from Woodland, County Meath into Turleenan in County Tyrone. Again, we asked that question, as we do of all our projects. In general, we generate the study area ourselves based on the simple A to B principle, as one must take into account those two points. Thereafter we asked for and sought feedback on whether the study area was big enough or otherwise. We did this as part of the preliminary re-evaluation report in 2011 with the North-South project.
Mr. Slye can cut the time in half by incorporating together his response to me and Deputy Heather Humphreys. This is, for all intents and purposes, a new project. It is not a continued trajectory and the people of the affected counties deserve to have the engagement that applies in each of the other two instances. Such engagement has not been afforded to those who reside across counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, that is, the affected and unwelcoming host communities.
We have a difficulty and while I appreciate Deputies' questions, another meeting is scheduled to take place in this committee room within the next ten minutes. Consequently, I ask Mr. Slye to answer the questions as quickly as possible. If some of them remain unanswered, I ask him to revert directly to the Deputies concerned because it is important to close out the meeting. I apologise for this but we are under pressure of time.
Mr. Fintan Slye:
That is all right and I am happy to engage with members outside in the hallway, if necessary. On the issue of consultation regarding the North-South project, we have gone back out and have sought to consult people. We examined the study area and went through all those processes over a recent period in this regard. We believe we have gone through this with the people in the area and perhaps we can have a discussion in detail about this outside this room. It was suggested that a costing of proceeding underground was never undertaken. EirGrid carried out a detailed costing, which we commissioned from PB Power. We published it and updated it recently. In addition, the independent commission provided a cost of going underground for the North-South project. This information has been published and is available. Moreover, as was stated earlier, it will form part of EirGrid's planning application.
There was a question from Deputy Timmins about how much of the Grid Link project can be placed underground. If we use AC grid technology, we can place short stretches of it underground but one is talking about distances of approximately 10 km. However, as the Deputy pointed out, this is a 260 km project and consequently, to place it all underground, one must insert a different technology, which is high voltage direct current, HVDC, technology. While partial undergrounding is possible and while EirGrid does and will continue to consider it, it is relatively limited, particularly in a project of the scale referred to by the Deputy, and EirGrid is being upfront about that. The Deputy spoke about the assessment of the undergrounding option and I reiterate we are conscious this is one of the themes coming through in respect of both the Grid Link and Grid West projects, namely, that such analysis of undergrounding, which was done in respect of the North-South project, must be done.
The Deputy referred to the motion tabled by the Minister in the Dáil last night about providing impartial analysis of engineering solutions. We must reflect on that, as well as on the feedback we get as part of the Grid Link process. Once such consultation has closed, we must revert and articulate to both the joint committee and the communities affected how we intend to respond to that. We are acutely conscious of the desire to have this additional information and to have it presented in a manner that is objective, fair, balanced and transparent. There was a question about an underground route and, as I might have mentioned earlier, the route one would use for an overhead corridor is not necessarily the one that is appropriate for an underground route. In our assessing of undergrounding for the North-South project, we considered a specific route for the undergrounding in that regard, which did not necessarily always follow the overhead route.
At this point, we must conclude the meeting. Consequently, I ask Mr. Slye to revert directly to Deputy McLellan with a response. I also ask him to revert to me on a question I asked about consulting people who obviously do not wish to engage or to give access to the land. I hope I have given everyone a fair chance to ask questions. I thank the witnesses for the presentation and their answers. Obviously, I imagine there is much for EirGrid to reflect on after today's meeting and I look forward to Mr. Slye's reflections in this regard at a later time. The message coming through clearly from the joint committee is that the consultation must improve, there must be independent analysis and many other issues must be addressed that have not been addressed heretofore. It is an ongoing process, I thank EirGrid for this presentation and I look forward to engaging with the witnesses in the future.