Pylons could hurt Labour in local elections

Rabbitte warned at packed meeting about controversial plan for line linking Leinster and Munster

Labour councillors concerned about plan to put pylons overground. Photograph:  Frank Miller

Labour councillors concerned about plan to put pylons overground. Photograph: Frank Miller


The controversial plan to build an overground power line linking Leinster and Munster could cost Labour seats in next year’s local elections, a behind- closed-doors meeting at the party conference was told.

About 100 councillors, TDs and senators attended the meeting which saw Minister for Communications and Energy Pat Rabbitte listen to widespread concerns about the €500 million plan to erect pylons.

Higher bills
It came after Mr Rabbitte said electricity and energy bills would increase if the power lines had to be put underground, as many politicians and campaign groups are calling for.

After the meeting, Carlow-Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan said that while there were initially concerns about the level of consultation by Eirgrid, it had now moved on to one issue: underground or overground.

“He didn’t commit to anything but he did listen to our concerns,” she said of Mr Rabbitte. “There is a concern it could become a local election issue. There are a lot of people out there fairly anxious and fairly angry about the idea of 46 metre-high pylons.”

Ms Phelan also said there should be a cost-benefit analysis between putting the lines underground or overground and this call was supported by others.

Cost-benefit analysis
“I believe there has to be a cost-benefit analysis, but that’s up to Eirgrid,” said Jack Wall, a Labour TD for Kildare South, who is chairman of the Labour parliamentary party.

Mr Wall also said the possibility of the pylon issue affecting Labour in next year’s local elections was raised with Mr Rabbitte.

“That point was made by a lot of people,” he said.

Roscommon senator John Kelly said the high turnout at the Saturday evening meeting showed the level of concern.

Mr Kelly also said councillors are concerned it could become a major issue in the local elections next year, particularly for Labour since Mr Rabbitte is the line minister.

“Councillors feel you could have a situation where there will be independent candidates running on the pylon issue.”

He also said the public and politicians wanted Eirgrid to “slow down” the process and properly explain what its approach is.

Mr Rabbitte and Eirgrid have extended the consultation period on the plan until January 7th.

Expensive option
Mr Rabbitte said that putting the lines underground would be more expensive, thus leading to higher energy bills.

“If it were decided to put any part of the transmission underground, it has implications for the ESB bills, the electricity bills and energy bills of consumers,” Mr Rabbitte said.

“It will put up the cost of energy if a more expensive system of implementation is chosen and that is something as well the public and the consumers have to consider.

“The issue for us in Government is whether we can afford the investment that would be required to put them underground.

“That is an issue that has to be examined in some considerable detail.”

Mr Rabbitte said that the Government had to be “sensitive” to the concerns of local communities, but said it was up to Eirgrid to select the exact route.