New options on high voltage lines
Energy chiefs have revealed new options to use underground cables and upgrade existing pylon lines on two controversial new high voltage lines to secure power supplies in coming decades.
But network company EirGrid ruled out burying one of the most contentious projects, which will connect electricity on both sides of the border.
The North-South line, which has faced some of the most ferocious opposition from local communities, farmers and campaigners, will link a substation in Woodland, Co Meath to Turleenan, Co Tyrone using giant pylons.
A planning application for the 400 kilovolt overhead power line is to be made in coming weeks without alternatives for going underground.
EirGrid's entire national project is expected to cost anything from 2.7-3.9 billion euro depending on the choices made on the voltage lines, a change from the previous forecast of 3.2 billion euro.
The second development is Grid West to link 647 megawatts of renewable generation projects in Mayo to the national grid in Roscommon and upgrade the network from the existing Bellacorick substation in north Mayo.
Three options have been outlined including a single underground cable costing 475m euro; a 220 kilovolt overhead cable with 30km underground costing 205-250m euro; and a 400 kilovolt overhead line with eight km underground costing 220m euro.
A final decision is expected in May.
The third project was the 250km Grid Link between Cork in the south and Kildare in the east, again to help bring renewable power into the system.
Energy chiefs have offered to move from a 550m euro overhead high-voltage cable to an underground cable costing 850m euro or to use new technology to put more power on existing lines - a first for Europe - and add an underwater cable at the Shannon estuary costing up to 250m euro. A final decision is expected this autumn.
"Finding the best solution means balancing many factors and while this option would eliminate the need for new infrastructure, it would restrict the scope for high-demand users," EirGrid said.
Fintan Slye, EirGrid chief executive, said the approach was to modernise the electricity network without placing too high a cost on people living beside the lines or industry which needs the power.
"EirGrid must ensure the necessary grid is in place to ensure that Ireland remain competitive - fostering economic growth, attracting new investments, and supporting indigenous jobs.
"It must do this without placing too great a burden on communities, or too high a cost on industry."
A report on the final strategy is expected in May.
EirGrid said the need for new electricity infrastructure remains even though changed economic circumstances have resulted in reduced demand forecasts for 2025 and beyond.
EirGrid's decisions on Grid Link and Grid West represent a significant response to farmer and rural community concerns in the south and west.
The Irish Farmers' Association spokesman Harold Kingston said EirGrid's change of tack was a significant response to genuine concerns raised by farmers and local communities regarding the need and scale of the projects proposed.
"An Bord Pleanala, as the highest planning authority in the State, must be in a position to make their planning decision based on having all facts and options on the table," he said.
The ESB said: "The availability of sufficient electricity grid capacity, in a timely and affordable manner, is a key enabler of Ireland's economic development.
"The grid development strategy provides an opportunity for open, public engagement on how infrastructure, which is critical to meeting the future electricity needs of society and the economy, will be provided. ESB welcomes this opportunity and supports EirGrid in facilitating this debate."
Alex White, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, said the new options show a fresh strategy.
"It will strengthen the electricity grid while ensuring that new infrastructure will be built when a clear need is identified and when all options have been fully explored," he said.
"It also places a much stronger focus on engaging and consulting with local communities on future infrastructure development."
Fianna Fail Senator Thomas Byrne accused the Government and EirGrid of abandoning communities in the north-east by not offering an alternative to overhead lines in the region.
"It flies in the face of specific promises made by Fine Gael to local communities across the North East," he said.
"The residents who will be directly affected by these plans deserve more than empty promises and tokenism."
Padraig O'Reilly, of the North East Pylon Pressure group, said Government representatives in the region would face a backlash over EirGrid's refusal to offer an alternative to overhead cables.
"It's very strange in our view to be honest. EirGrid are taking one tack with Grid Link and Grid West and another with the North-South," he said.
"It just doesn't make any sense, it's just going to lead to a lot of concern and confrontation in the north-east.
"We will challenge through the normal process in planning and by putting it up to Government TDs in the north-east as to why we are excluded from the options."
Up to 250 farmers and landowners between Dunboyne and Carrickmacross back the group, who say the cross border line would need giant 420 pylons.
"It looks like there's no other choice than to see what the planning application is like and to see what gaps are in it and see where we can go
"We'll also be putting serious pressure on Government politicians."