Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Planning gaffe halts Meath-Tyrone interconnector

The Electricity Supply Board in the Republic has emerged as being responsible for the collapse of its own planning application for a €200m (£177m) electricity interconnector project — because it couldn't get the height of the electricity towers right.

A review had been set up to discover who was responsible for the “human error” in the public planning permission notice for the new interconnector between Meath and Tyrone. The official notice said the pylons to carry the electricity lines ranged in height from 21 metres to 37 metres. The true figure was 21-44m.

And when this was pointed out last June by Fine Gael councillor Owen Bannigan after 21 days of oral hearings into the planning application, Eirgrid management had to withdraw the application.

The review was set up by Eirgrid, the state-owned electricity network company, to find out which of the three firms doing consultancy work for the project got the height wrong. It found the incorrect information was supplied by ESB International (ESBI), a firm that is owned by the ESB.

“The error arose through incorrect information being provided by one of EirGrid's consultants, namely ESBI and the error was inadvertent, or ‘human error',” it said.

ESBI describes itself as “one of Europe's leading engineering and consultancy organisations”, building power stations and trading electricity at home and abroad.

Before the public notice for the Meath-Tyrone interconnector project was published in December last year, it was checked by people in Eirgrid, ESBI and the two other consultancy firms |employed — RPS and Socoin/ Tobin.

“The tower height error was not identified in any of these reviews,” the review said.

Although Eirgrid has refused to say how much it has spent on the planning process for the interconnector so far, this has been estimated at up to €7m (£6.2m).

Eirgrid said 90% of the cost would be recoverable because most of the expert reports could be used again. However, it will have to pay the remaining 10% of costs again — for lawyers and expert witnesses to attend the planning hearings on its behalf.

An Eirgrid spokesman said it was putting new procedures and checks in place to ensure the mistake would not be repeated.

A new planning application for the interconnector has not yet been submitted.

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