Incoming Eirgrid chairman might reconsider taking post

The incoming chairman of national electricity grid operator, Eirgrid, hinted yesterday that he would reconsider his decision to accept the job after facing heavy criticism at an Oireachtas committee.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte recently appointed retired civil servant and former chairman of An Bord Pleanála, John O’Connor, as chairman of Eirgrid.

Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, yesterday criticised the appointment on the grounds that Eirgrid intends seeking permission from An Bord Pleanála for controversial construction projects in the north east, west and southeast, creating a possible conflict of interest for Mr O’Connor.

Responding to members who asked if he would reconsider his position, Mr O’Connor told the meeting: “I will discuss it with the Minister and come to a conclusion after that”.

He has already accepted Mr Rabbitte’s offer of the post.

Mr O’Connor rejected several times that he would be conflicted in his new role or that his appointment tilts the planning process in Eirgrid’s favour.

“There will be no back door phone calls, there will not be anything underhand or anything like that,” he said.

Eirgrid plans to run high-voltage lines on pylons through all three areas in a €1 billion investment that forms part of its Grid25 project, which is designed, among other things, to boost the network’s capacity and ship electricity from wind farms in the west and south to consumers in the east.

However, local groups oppose the plans, claiming they will damage property values and the environment and involve health risks.

They want the lines placed underground, but Eirgrid says three independent reports indicate that this could cost three times as much and create ongoing difficulties with maintenance.

Mr O’Connor said yesterday that he would not rule out seeking an independent report into the possibility of putting the high-voltage lines underground.

“It has to be responded to transparently and is something that cannot be skirted around,” he stressed. He also agreed that the impact on land values would have to be addressed. Eirgrid’s chairman designate acknowledged that he would not like to live close to an electricity pylon.

Under questioning from committee members, he suggested that “close to” could mean within 50 metres.

Mr O’Connor spent most of his career in the Department of the Environment, and recently chaired the Pyrite Resolution Board.

During the committee hearing, he told members that he had always worked to protect the environment “even when it was not popular in some quarters”. Source: The Irish Times.