Thursday, 11 December 2014
Electricity Transmission Network
9. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the current status of EirGrid's Grid Link project; the way his Department has assessed EirGrid's claims relating to the threat to the national power supply if the Grid Link overhead pylon project does not get the go-ahead; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47123/14]
There is a view put out strongly by EirGrid that the lights will be turned off in Dublin and elsewhere if it does not get the Grid Link project up and running. We know the difficulties it has in this respect and it is to launch a new public consultation. Has the Department done a proper assessment to verify the claims? When I served on the committee dealing with communications, I visited national grid facilities and there was never any indication that there would be a disruption in supply. That was at the height of the boom, when electricity usage was at a peak. Does the Department agree with the claims?
I thank the Deputy for his question. The Grid Link project will facilitate the integration of renewable energy onto the transmission system, reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels and facilitate further electricity interconnection with Europe, providing a more secure electricity system. Despite the recent recession and drop in electricity demand, there remains a concern about the emerging risk to the security of supply in the south and east of the country, brought about largely by heavy power flows through the network. EirGrid estimates that, if left unchecked, the existing grid in the south and east of Ireland would not be sufficient to meet our future electricity needs, thus jeopardising electricity supply to the area. In meeting its obligations to ensure the system is secure, EirGrid proposed the Grid Link project to strengthen the grid and fulfil expected requirements in the south east.
EirGrid reviews all projects and strategies at regular intervals to take into account relevant developments, including economic conditions and electricity demand forecasts. In 2010, a review of Grid25 resulted in EirGrid reducing the estimated cost of the programme to €3.2 billion. EirGrid is currently undertaking a further review, with the outcome expected in the first quarter of 2015. In January 2014, an independent expert panel was established to examine the Grid West and Grid Link projects. EirGrid is undertaking analysis on fully undergrounded and overhead options for each of the projects in accordance with terms of reference set by the panel, which are available on the Department’s website.
In due course, the panel will provide an opinion to the Minister on the completeness, objectivity and comparability of the studies and reports and will oversee the publication by EirGrid of the two studies and reports prior to EirGrid proceeding to public consultation on the two projects. The panel expects to be in a position to provide an opinion to the Minister on the Grid West project in the first quarter of 2015. An opinion on the Grid Link project is expected in the third quarter of 2015.
I thank the Minister of State and wish him well in his work on the portfolio, as it is the first time I have asked questions of him. I do not accept his answer, however, as the cart was put before the horse. The reports should have been with the Minister long before EirGrid bulldozed ahead with its sham consultation, which it has accepted was not done properly or adequately. They are going back for a new round of public consultation and I heard a spokesperson on RTE radio during the week explaining how it would be different and have more local staff involved. EirGrid has been knocked back by the sheer scale of resistance to the proposal as it was not being fair, listening to people or engaging. It was going to go ahead with the project before any reports were done. Nobody who is opposed to the projects wants to have the lights turned off. We are aware of the need for energy but the scale of the project was way too big and overly ambitious. There was an attempt to bulldoze the issue and EirGrid has been set back in those tracks. I wish those reports were ready to be presented now.
There was public pressure and it is important that there is engagement and consultation in response to that pressure. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Rabbitte, set up the panel to consider the options of overhead pylons versus underground lines. I encourage the Deputy to feed into the process, and his contribution today will I hope form part of that. It is a fairly tight timeframe but it is important that both options are considered.
The issue of overhead pylons and wind turbines is a difficult space. I agree that people realise that energy requirements are a practical reality and important, particularly if we are seeking to attract investment in new industry. I will take on board the Deputy's points.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply and for acknowledging that the Government had to listen to the people. We see that with Irish Water. The independence of the panel concerns some people. Is it wholly independent of EirGrid and the other bodies? There is also a concern about the new chairperson of EirGrid, who spent so much time in An Bord Pleanála. These things do not sit well with the public. The panel must be truly independent. This must be clear-cut. There must be no fuzziness or no spin.
Having found out who exactly is on the panel, I would be confident of its composition in terms of independence. Obviously, it has terms of reference. The panel is chaired by Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness and includes Professor John FitzGerald; the economist, Mr. Colm McCarthy; engineering professor, Keith Bell, from the University of Strathclyde; and Dr. Karen Foley, head of the school of landscape architecture in UCD. I am confident that we have an independent group and I hope there will be a comprehensive examination of all the concerns in the first report in quarter one of 2015.