Pylons review will be 'cool and unbiased'

The chair of an independent panel charged with examining the feasibility of putting two controversial powerlines underground has said the review will be "cool and unbiased".

Former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness, named by Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte to head the review panel, said they will be working on the best option for the country.

"We will have a very cool and unbiased look at all that is involved in this, in order to try and reach a decision for what is best for both ordinary people and for the country in general," she said.

"The people who are appointed with me are also very open-minded people, and people who aren't easily pushed around - if I may say so."

Minister Rabbitte announced the independent review of the two controversial schemes yesterday - the €500m Gridlink project from Cork to Kildare and the €240m Gridwest linking Mayo and Roscommon - admitting that the process could result in delays of up to 18 months in the process of securing planning for the infrastructure.

The group will look at reports from EirGrid on the various underground and overground options for the infrastructure, taking account of environmental, technical and cost factors, and can also commission its own research if is not satisfied with the work presented.

Minister Rabbite said the panel was commissioned following a huge volume of submissions to Eirgrid on the Gridlink route, denying that it was timed to coincide with the upcoming local and European elections.

However Sinn Féinn leader Gerry Adams has described the review as "a pre-election stunt".

“Yesterday’s announcement of a review is clearly timed to coincide with the upcoming Local and European elections and to push this issue back beyond May," Mr Adams said in the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions this morning.

He asked the Taoiseach whether the potential health implications of over-ground pylons were excluded from the review and why is there no health expert on the panel.

The Sinn Féin Leader criticised the fact that such an important issue had not been brought before the Dail.

Mr Adams also questioned the panel’s capacity to act completely independently when it is overseeing an analysis conducted by EirGrid who are on the record as dismissing undergrounding as a viable option.

He said is a cost/benefit analysis of the various options was urgently needed and said Eirgrid’s entire Gridlink project need to be put fully on hold until the outcome of independent panel’s report.

Eirgrid Chief Executive Fintan Slye has welcomed the setting up of the review panel, saying that although the infrastructure is urgently needed, it will be worth the wait.

"Obviously the longer these projects are delayed, it places the transmission system at more risk," he said.

"It limits our ability to connect new generation on to the system, it means that bottlenecks will continue to exist on the system.

"But these are long-term projects - there wasn't any plan to go into planning on the next number of months on any of them."

Eirgrid last night confirmed landowners living near 400kV pylons would get a once-off payment of €30,000 for residences at 50m to €5,000 at 200m. Under new rules, communities will also get funds amounting to €40,000 per kilometre.

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