Community groups have vowed to continue to oppose plans for a high-voltage power line in the west despite a proposal which would allow the 113km cable to be placed underground.
The plan by national grid operator EirGrid to place the Grid West line underground has received a mixed reaction, with residents insisting the project was not needed while local politicians said it was a “better option” but would require further analysis.
The move comes after the Government ordered the semi-state company to consider undergrounding all or part of the project planned between Roscommon and north-west Mayo, instead of building it entirely overground on pylons up to 45 metres high.
The cost of erecting the line overground is €240m. It is believed the underground option could be €720m.
EirGrid said its preferred underground route runs mainly along local and regional roads from from Moygownagh in Mayo, between Crossmolina and Ballina, down the east side of Lough Conn, north-east of Foxford and north of Charlestown, Ballaghaderreen and Frenchpark in Co Roscommon to the Flagford substation area, south-west of Carrick-on-Shannon.
It has also suggested that partial undergrounding could take place on sections of the line up to 10km long, particularly in areas where pylons would have a profound impact on the landscape.
EirGrid chief executive Fintan Slye said the preferred route had been identified, but that technical, engineering and design work had to be completed before the plan would be presented to an independent expert panel appointed by the Government last January.
The panel will assess if both options have been properly examined before planning permission is sought.
“We would expect to have both options completed towards the end of the year and sent to the panel,” Mr Slye said. “Once they’re satisfied, they go out to public consultation. . .
“We will then take a decision on which is our preferred solution and that will go to An Bord Pleanala, probably next year. It will decide if the project should be consented.”
Local independent councillor Seamus Weir, who left Fine Gael over the project, said he was “glad” that EirGrid was considering other options, but said communities linked the proposal with plans to increase the number of wind farms in the county.
“I’m glad they’re looking at another option,” he said.
“The wind energy strategy in Mayo is crazy, the amount of wind they want to produce is beyond all means. If it’s reduced to a smaller system, the undergrounding would be a better option.
“We’re talking about the Moy Valley region, it’s a high tourism area. Pylons would devastate tourism, and that’s one of the reasons why there’s so much opposition.”
Grid West is one of three high-voltage power lines proposed by EirGrid to bolster the grid and allow more renewables onto the system. The underground option would require a different technology to be used, along with other technical challenges.
Identifying and repairing a fault could take a “number of weeks”, Mr Slye said, instead of a day in an overhead system.
The construction period is the same, about three years, but more land would be needed.
Crucially, the cost could be as much as three times as high, which could be borne by electricity customers and paid through their bills.
Details of the route can be found at www.eirgridprojects.com/gridwest.
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