Communications Energy and Natural Resources, Dáil Issues, Dáil Work, Oral Questions

Clare tables the important issues of fracking and the controversial Gridlink 25 project which could see monstrous pylons up and down the country, with Minister Pat Rabbitte. Unfortunately they were not selected for discussion, and sadly not really answered as you will see below…..

To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his Department will conduct any studies into the increased threat of environmental problems from fracking in areas that are prone to flooding in view of such experiences in parts of the United States.

Clare Daly

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 30th January, 2014.

Ref No:   4117/14     Lottery:   29

REPLY

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Mr. F. O’Dowd)

I have stated on a number of occasions that I do not propose to consider applications for petroleum authorisations in respect of projects proposing the use of hydraulic fracturing until the EPA Research Programme has concluded and there has been time to consider its findings.

In November of last year the EPA launched a call for tenders, with the selection process to conclude by March this year, to appoint the relevant expertise to conduct detailed research into the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on the environment. The research will consider baseline characterisation with regard to water, seismic and air quality, potential impacts and mitigations and best practice regulatory framework.

I have also made it clear that should the EPA research conclude that this technology can be used in a manner that protects the environment, that any application for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing as part of an unconventional gas exploration programme would be subject to a full environmental impact assessment. An environmental impact assessment entails consideration of the potential impacts of a project on population, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, including the architectural and archaeological heritage, landscape and the inter-relationship between the above factors. Under the EIA Directive, it is not possible to permit a project unless it can be determined following assessment that it would not have an unacceptable environmental or social impact.

To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will halt the Gridlink 25 project until a comprehensive cost benefit analysis is implemented regarding the underground option, and the cost of overground pylons of the more modern and advanced tower designs which reduce visibility and EMF.

– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 30th January, 2014.

REPLY

I propose to take Questions Nos 7, 11, 13, 18 and 122 together.

EirGrid’s Grid25 national transmission grid development programme is vital for future socioeconomic progress in Ireland, for regional development throughout Ireland, and to ensure that current and future generations of consumers have access to more reliable, sustainable and affordable energy. Grid25 represents an investment in the electricity transmission system of around €3.2 billion in the coming 15 to 20 years.

During the course of engagement by EirGrid in the recent public consultation processes, and most recently in relation to the Grid Link project, on which 35,000 submissions were received, a number of key concerns emerged. This has necessitated considerable review and reflection in order to determine the optimum approach needed to address those concerns that are valid, while at the same time ensuring adequate and effective transmission capacity in the State.

Arising from examination of the concerns expressed, I have proposed a number of measures to deal with the immediate concerns on the Grid West and Grid Link projects, while also addressing the generality of commentary on the need to improve stakeholder and community engagement on all Grid25 projects for the future.

I have appointed an independent panel of experts, to be chaired by former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness. The panel of experts will decide the terms of reference for comprehensive, route specific studies of fully underground and overhead options for both the Grid Link and the Grid West projects. The panel will be required to ensure that the studies are complete, objective, and comparable and will report to me on these matters in due course. Both the overhead and underground options will be published side-by-side, in objective and comparable terms, before consideration is given to the appropriate next steps for each of the projects.

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 and visual amenity impacts, technical efficacy and cost factors. The independent panel will have power to commission additional work if there is any perceived deficiency in the studies presented.

Detailed studies have already been conducted for the North South transmission line, including consideration of a route specific underground option and, most recently, an assessment by the Independent International Commission of Experts appointed in July 2011 which reported in February 2012. Prevously, in 2009, the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources commissioned an independent study on Comparative Merits of Overhead Electricity Transmission Lines versus Underground Cables. That study was conducted by international consultants Ecofys. The route-specific underground analysis, conducted by PB Power, found that the cost of undergrounding would significantly exceed the cost of the more usual overhead cables. The PB Power analysis was considered and confirmed by Independent Commission who estimated that the cost of undergrounding would be at least three times that of overhead cables. EirGrid has taken full account of the contents of those studies in finalising the planning application. I understand An Bord Pleanála will be consdering the alternatives, including the possible use of underground cables, considered by Eirgrid prior to Eirgrid’s selection of the preferred overhead option. Eirgird will be required to present its position on the alternatives in its Environmental Impact Statement whcih will form part of its planning application. That application is expected to be lodged shortly with An Bord Pleanála.

EirGrid has been engaging in comprehensive processes in regard to Grid Link and Grid West. This has involved opening regional information centres, a lo-call project information telephone line and local radio advertising, backed up by national and local print advertising. The Government has affirmed in its July 2012 Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and other Energy Infrastructure that EirGrid is obligated to adhere to all relevant guidelines and standards – that would include compliance with the Aarhus Convention. Additionally, I will be asking the Chair of EirGrid 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.
EirGrid has set out its vision for development of the national transmission system through the Grid25 Strategy which was published in October 2008. In accordance with its statutory and licence responsibilities as the Transmission System Operator (TSO) the company has prepared a Transmission Development Plan (TDP) for the period 2013–2023. The TDP presents the developments which will be required to deliver the Grid25 Strategy, meeting future requirements as they are known at this time including the requirement to accommodate renewable generation. The vision articulated in the Grid25 Strategy is assessed and reassessed on a regular basis having regard to current and future demand and other factors, and is consulted on through the TDP. Details of the Strategy and the TDP for 2013-2023 are available on the EirGrid website. In addition, at a project level, detailed needs assessments for each of the major Grid25 projects have been undertaken and are available on Eirgrid’s website.

It is my strong wish that these measures will comprehensively address the issues that have arisen with the Grid25 projects to the satisfaction of all interested parties.