EirGrid chief says health risks not on agenda

Campaigners and politicians issue mixed welcome to announcement of panel

Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte announes independent panel of experts. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte announes independent panel of experts. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES


EirGrid chief executive Fintan Slye has said he believes the potential health implications of overground pylons will not be subject to review by the independent panel announced yesterday by Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte.

The independent panel of experts has been established to oversee an analysis, which will be conducted by EirGrid, of whether a new pylon network of high-voltage cables across rural parts of the country may be constructed underground.

Part of a statement from the Department of the Energy yesterday, however, said “the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will engage expert assistance to review and report on international developments on the potential health effects of electro-magnetic fields (EMF) emanating from transmission grid infrastructure”.

‘Separate review’
In an interview with The Irish Times Mr Slye said “the panel won’t be dealing with the health issues as I understand it. Those will be dealt with by a separate review that the Minister for the Environment is going to commission. I believe they are going to go out and do that in the next short time.

“The Department of the Environment, which is the responsible party in Government for the issue of EMF and health, is going to commission a review and a report on all of the international developments and the most up-to-date research and studies on the issue. It will report back to Government on that.

“We will continue to employ best practice and continue ourselves to get the most up-to-date advice that we can. We will work with whatever comes out of this process the Minister has announced today.”

He said the analysis EirGrid carries out will set out both underground and overground options in “a comparable way”.

“It will involve a detailed study, looking at costs, the selection of a route, technical options, but in addition, the environmental aspects of it,” he said. “At the next stage of public consultation, we will set out the project and the two options for doing it.

“Option one is a fully underground solution and option two is predominantly overground, which means there would be some undergrounding, but it would be predominantly over ground.

‘Fair and objective’
“The benefit of the panel is that before we go out to public consultation, they will be there to make sure that those studies and the information that is being put in front of the public is a fair and objective comparison of the two options. Ultimately, this will involve trade-offs. There won’t be one option that will come out a clear winner.”

Mr Slye said, “generally underground solutions are more expensive” but that “cost is not the only criteria”. He also said concerns about negative implications of overground pylons for tourism could be “mitigated” through the route and the design of the pylons.

The announcement of the independent panel received a mixed welcome from campaigners and political parties.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on energy Michael Moynihan said the appointment of Catherine McGuinness and the expert panel was “welcome”, but he criticised the fact the analysis will be carried out by EirGrid.

The Irish Farmers’ Association national environment and rural affairs chairman Harold Kingston said the decision represented “an important recognition by Government that electricity infrastructure will have a significant impact on rural communities. It is essential this review is thorough and addresses the many concerns raised by farmers.”