Justice Catherine McGuinness to chair expert panel overseeing quality of Grid Link route options

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.”