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Minister Rabbitte responds to Grid Link public consultation

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Dublin, 28 January 2014

The Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte T.D. today (28 January 2014) announced that he is establishing an expert panel chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Catherine McGuinness to oversee the preparation of reports on the best underground route options to compare with the Grid Link and Grid West high voltage power lines currently being designed.

Minister Rabbitte informed the Government this morning that he will ask the expert panel to decide terms of reference for comprehensive, route-specific studies of fully undergrounded options for both Grid Link and Grid West. The panel will be required to ensure that the studies are complete, objective, and comparable to similar studies of overhead options for the two projects, and will report to the Minister in that regard. Both the overhead and underground options will be published side-by-side, in objective and comparable terms, before proceeding to the next stage of public consultation.

“On the 3rd December last I told the Dáil that I recognised legitimate concerns about the impact of new transmission lines and other infrastructure on the landscape, the environment and on local communities. I also said that I expected EirGrid to fully engage with potentially affected communities, to examine impartially the case for all achievable engineering solutions and to undertake and communicate a well-informed, objective and authoritative analysis, impact assessment and pre-planning consultation. And I confirmed that, at the end of the then current phase of public consultation, I would respond on behalf of the Government to the issues raised.”

“Developing the electricity grid for our future economic prosperity is important but we cannot ignore the demands highlighted by community groups during the public consultation. Many respondents to the consultation process, while acknowledging the need for an electricity grid fit for purpose, are dissatisfied that there has not been a complete analysis of undergrounding as compared to overhead power lines. I agree that such a comparable analysis should be carried out at the direction of the independent expert panel”.

The Minister also announced additional steps to be taken so as to address issues that arose in the consultation:

· EirGrid will be required to undertake the two studies, as determined by the independent panel of experts, which will take account of, inter alia, environmental (including visual amenity) impacts, technical efficacy and cost factors. The independent panel will have power to commission its own work if there is any perceived deficiency in the studies presented.

· The chairman of EirGrid will be asked to undertake a comprehensive assessment with a view to improving EirGrid’s community engagement processes and procedures, having regard to the significant public concerns raised on this issue.

· A range of community gain measures for overhead options are being developed to address issues of visual impact and property devaluation.

· The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will engage expert assistance to review and report on international developments on the potential health effects of electro-magnetic fields (EMF) emanating from transmission grid infrastructure.

· In future the Minister will take questions in the Dáil on policy issues that arise in connection with Grid25, while technical and operational questions from public representatives will be responded to within 7 days by EirGrid.

Expert advice, national and international, available to EirGrid has consistently asserted that there is no impact on health arising from high voltage overhead lines. However, since potential health risks were raised by many respondents during the consultation, the Minister has agreed with his colleague the Minister for the Environment that an update to a 2007 review of the scientific literature will be commissioned from appropriately qualified experts, with a report to be provided as soon as possible.

“All over the world the development of electricity infrastructure is highly controversial. Ireland is no exception. People need to be assured that the options they are being asked to consider are the right ones and that they are being given all the facts. That’s why I have asked Catherine McGuinness to chair a group of experts who will oversee the preparation of reports on both underground and overhead alternatives.”

The other members of the group appointed by the Minister are: economists John FitzGerald and Colm McCarthy Engineering Professor Keith Bell, , University of Strathclyde and Dr. Karen Foley, Head of School of Landscape Architecture, UCD;

The Minister’s announcement followed a Government meeting this morning where he briefed Cabinet colleagues on the initial report he had received from EirGrid on issues arising after the consultation on the Grid Link project closed earlier this month. “The Board of EirGrid shares my view that detailed work needs to be done on an underground option before we ask potentially affected communities to re-engage with this process in the coming years.”

The Emerging Themes from the Grid Link Consultation January 2014 can be viewed here
ENDS


Notes to Editors:

Details of members of the expert panel

Chairperson

· The Honourable Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness

Judge Catherine McGuinness was called to the Bar in 1977 and to the Inner Bar in 1989. She was a member of Seanad Éireann from 1979-82. She was appointed to the current Council of State in January 2012.

She served as a Judge of the Circuit Court from 1994-1996, of the High Court from 1996-2000 and of the Supreme Court from 2000-2006. From 2005-2011, she was President of the Law Reform Commission. She is currently the Adjunct Professor of Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Judge McGuinness was appointed as Chair of NUI Galway’s Údarás na hOllscoile (Governing Authority) in May 2013.

Members

· Mr. John FitzGerald, Research Professor, Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland

John FitzGerald is Research Professor in the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland (ESRI). He is President of the Association d’Instituts Européens de Conjuncture Économique and former president of the Irish Economic Association. Currently a member of the Commission of the Central Bank of Ireland. Past member of the National Economic and Social Council, of the board of the Northern Ireland Authority for Energy Regulatiom. Former member of the Irish Energy Research Council, of the Independent Water review Panel, Northern Ireland and of the High Level Group on Green Enterprise. Chaired the Renewable Energy Strategy Group for the former Department of Public Enterprise. Former member of the EU "Group for Economic Analysis" from 2002-2004 advising the President of the EU Commission on matters of Economic Policy. Admitted in 2011 as a member of the Royal Irish Academy. He has published in a number of different fields and helped develop the ESRI's macro-economic modelling programme.

· Professor Keith Bell, Professor of Smart Grid, Institute for Energy and Environment, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Strathclyde.

Keith Bell is the Scottish Power Professor of Smart Grids in the Institute for Energy and Environment within the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow which he joined in August 2005 after some years working in the electricity supply industry in the UK and, before that, time as a researcher in academia.

Keith is an invited expert member of CIGRE Working Group C1.24 on "Tools for developing Optimum Transmission Development Plans". He is also a member of the Scottish Government's "Energy, Economics and Grid Group".

· Dr. Karen Foley, Head of School of Landscape Architecture, UCD

Dr Karen Foley is head of landscape architecture in UCD School of Architecture, teaching on the landscape architecture, architecture and planning programmes. Her research includes landscape assessment methodologies and rural landscape change. She is one of the instigators of an EU funded research project bringing together urban communities and businesses together with local authorities and researchers to collaborate on practical new solutions for more sustainable and resilient European cities”.

· Mr. Colm McCarthy, Economist.

Colm McCarthy is a graduate in Economics of University College Dublin and of the University of Essex. He has worked at the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Central Bank of Ireland, with the economic consulting firm DKM and at the Economics Department of University College Dublin.

He has served on the boards of the Electricity Supply Board and of the Irish Gas Board, is currently a member of the Dublin Airport Authority and has undertaken consulting assignments for the EU Commission and for the World Bank. He has published over 40 technical articles on issues in applied economics in Irish and international journals, including the Economic Journal, the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, and the European Economic Review.

He writes regular columns for the Farmers Journal and for the Sunday Independent.





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