There was a mixture of satisfaction, relief and quiet optimism in the Killeshin Hotel among locals at the end of the An Bord Pleanála hearing into the Laois Kilkenny Reinforcement Project.
An Bord Pleanála’s inspector Andrew Boyle caused something of a stir on Friday afternoon when he suggested possible conditions of relocating the substation from the proposed site of Coolnabacky and undergrounding of 400kV and 110kV lines.
It indicated to the Ratheniska Timahoe and Spink Substation Action Group their submissions and cross-examining of EirGrid staff may have just born fruit.
This hearing was four years in the making since the project was first mooted and it showed on the part of the local group.
The RTS substation had prepared for it and could call on two experts in the form of colourful, abrasive environmentalist Peter Sweetman, along with Portarlington-based Dave Malone of the Environmental Action Alliance.
“We implemented everything we had, all the information. EirGrid were giving no information,” said group chairperson John Lowry. “We rest our case with An Bord Pleanála because we have done all we can do in terms of opposing this project. We won’t be making any comment in what way An Bord Pleanála will go.”
Fellow group member Colm Fingleton said that the hearing “could not have gone any better.’’
Mr Lowry said that the group was “very happy” to hear of inspector Boyle’s conditions, which had come as something of a surprise to those present.
“We are very happy that way. You can see the concerns of the substation on top of the aquifer that supplies half of Laois,” he said. “I think it’s a positive on our side.”
He added that he found it “heart-warming” the manner in which the group had made its submissions.
In final submissions, EirGrid’s barrister Jarlath Fitzsimons rebuffed arguments against the application in detail.
Mr Fitzsimons maintained that the project was needed to meet forecasted constraints on the transmission in the midlands region to ensure the security and improve quality of supply.
Mr Fitzsimons said that the project represented “the best use of existing assets, the least amount of new infrastructure and the most sustainable reinforcement option.”
He also reiterated that the project was not going to be used to facilitate commercial wind farms in the midlands.
Messrs Sweetman and Malone said that the application was invalid due to legislative reasons. Mr Sweetman said that since a priority habitat was located adjacent to the site, planning permission could not be given
Mr Malone claimed that there had been inadequate scoping of the project at its outset and EirGrid had not provided sufficient information in its environmental impact statement.
The other main points of objection were the lack of consultation with the public by EirGrid; the project’s links with wind energy developers; impact of the project; and the case for undergrounding of cables
It was left to Dave Fingleton of the RTS Substation Action Group to sum up, memorably, the group’s position on the application in his final submission.
“We started out as a fly in EirGrid’s ointment. During this hearing, we turned into a stone in EirGrid’s shoe. Now it’s up to you, An Bord Pleanála, to be the rock on which this fatally flawed project must perish,” he said.
The case is due to conclude by the end of December, but it is believed that a decision will not be known until 2014.
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