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EirGrid challenges Laois lines policy

EirGrid has brought a High Court challenge to Laois County Council’s policy requiring all new power lines over 400kv to be placed underground.

Leave to bring the judicial review was granted yesterday by Mr Justice Michael Peart on an ex parte basis (one side only represented). The matter was returned for mention to next month.

EirGrid Plc claims the policy, adopted by the council last October as part of its county development plan for 2011-2017, makes it impossible for the company to fulfil its function to develop, maintain and operate a safe, secure, economic and reliable electricity transmission system in the county.

The semi-State company, which has operated Ireland’s electricity transmission system since 2006, says it has major concerns about the cost and environmental implications if all lines over 400kv in Co Laois have to be put underground.

It claims the council erred in law by adopting the policy which, it claims, is contrary and inconsistent with the National Spatial Strategy, regional planning guidelines and the objectives of the county development plan.

The underground lines policy was unanimously adopted by the council’s members against a recommendation by the Laois county manager, Peter Carey, not to include it in the development plan, EirGrid complains.

In a report to councillors, Mr Carey warned that adopting the policy would jeopardise redevelopment of the national electricity network, seriously compromise future projects designed to improve problems associated with increased electricity demand in the area, and have major negative repercussions for job creation in Co Laois.

Others, including the Minister for the Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency, ESB Networks and the Irish Wind Energy Association, had also taken issue with the policy, EirGrid said.

In its proceedings, EirGrid is seeking an order quashing the council’s decision on grounds it acted outside its powers and made an error in law by adopting the policy.

Nuala Butler SC, for EirGrid, said it was much more expensive to put lines underground and to service them.

It made no sense to have all such new lines going through Co Laois placed underground while they were overground everywhere else, she said.

The council’s policy would make it difficult for renewable energy generation projects such as wind farms to link into the power grid, counsel argued. However, EirGrid was not opposed to having power lines in urban or places of natural scenic beauty placed underground.