Wednesday, 7 March 2012
Electricity Transmission Network
The State-owned independent transmission system operator, EirGrid, is building the east-west interconnector between Ireland and Britain. The interconnector, which is on schedule and within budget, will be commissioned this autumn.
The interconnector is a strategically vital energy project for the island of Ireland and is financially supported under the European Energy Programme for Recovery. It will critically contribute to national security of energy supply and competition as well as underpinning the progressive development of renewable energy.
I have no role in the planning and construction of the transmission network, including the interconnector, which are operational matters for EirGrid. The planning process is a matter for An Bord Pleanála under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006.
EirGrid obtained full planning permission for the east-west interconnector from An Bord Pleanála in 2009. This approval followed a comprehensive assessment process including an oral hearing at which all stakeholders were present.
During the planning process, including the oral hearing, public health and safety considerations were fully covered. In that context, I want to place on record once again that I have no reason whatsoever to believe that any relevant data on EMF or any other health and safety dimension of the interconnector was withheld from, or misrepresented to, the planning process. I am categorically assured by EirGrid that this is not the case and I would expect no less an assurance from the State-owned transmission company.
I am aware that in 2010, after the decision by An Bord Pleanála, members of Rush Community Council raised further concerns about the health and safety implications of the interconnector project. These matters have been comprehensively dealt with in the planning process. However, in order to assist local community understanding and confidence, my Department commissioned an additional independent expert opinion on health issues relating to high voltage direct current cable technology. The expert opinion was provided by Dr. Eric van Rongen, a leading international expert on EMF. Dr. van Rongen's report has been in the public domain since October 2010 together with an additional report on the operational safety of the interconnector undertaken by the international energy consultants KEMA, published in June 2011.
The two additional reports reinforce the conclusions inherent in the decision of An Bord Pleanála that Ireland's east-west interconnector project fully meets all relevant international health and safety standards.
I stated last year that it was time to bring closure to the ongoing debate on these matters, and I say it again today. I have full confidence in EirGrid's commitment to complete the east-west interconnector successfully to the highest safety standards in the national interest and without risk to the health and safety of local communities.
It was a specific question to which the part the Minister addressed was where he stated he had no reason to believe that any information was withheld or that An Bord Pleanála was misled. That is a factually inaccurate statement because the Minister has evidence to the contrary.
There was the meeting the Minister held with Rush Community Council where it was reported, and EirGrid itself has admitted, that the company did not submit information on time-varying magnetic fields as part of the An Bord Pleanála hearing.
Professor Anthony Staines, co-author of the Government's report on the health effect of electromagnetic fields, has stated that it now appears that the evidence as to the induced magnetic field presented at the oral hearing was seriously inaccurate and, therefore, a potential adverse health affect of the cable system has not been assessed for the received planning permission and has not informed the route selection process. This former Government adviser went on to state that this causes serious public concern and was serious misrepresentation to the planning hearing and that, in his opinion, a new planning permission is required.
Based on information that the Minister had previously and information that I have resubmitted here today, that a former public health adviser to the Government has stated that the evidence submitted by EirGrid was flawed, what does Deputy Rabbitte propose to do about it?
As Deputy Clare Daly will be aware, I tested her propositions with EirGrid and I am satisfied the material that I have put on the record of the House is the honest and best assessment available to me.
Deputy Daly is correct in one regard, that is, that I met Rush Community Council and as a result of that meeting, I re-tested the claims it makes that EirGrid withheld or misrepresented data on EMF during the planning process. These allegations are categorically refuted by EirGrid. Subsequent to that meeting, I advised Rush Community Council of the conclusions to which I had come.
I repeat the Minister is incorrect. EirGrid stated publicly to the planning authority that the magnetic field would only be static. The company now admits that it has a time-varying component. EirGrid has not denied that. The company stated that such is the case but that the impact of it is insignificant.
The Minister is inaccurate. I ask him to go back and look at his notes. There are serious health concerns which have been highlighted by Dr. Anthony Staines. These include the risk of childhood leukemia, which Dr. Staines states has not been taken into account in these studies.
As a public body, EirGrid is accountable to the Minister. He can call the company in, look at this evidence again and seek EirGrid to go through a proper planning process where this information is brought in to the public domain. I insist that the Minister would do that.
I accept that the concerns of Rush Community Council are genuinely held but I repeat that its propositions have been tested. We have met Rush Community Council directly. I have consulted my chief technical adviser, taken advice from the senior officials in my Department and put these claims to EirGrid which has responsibility in this matter. I have never heard anybody fault or denigrate the high technical reputation of its senior people or anybody else in it.