An Election Ploy?

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The announcement by EirGrid that the GridLink Project has been scrapped causes mixed emotions. Jubilation by those who have fought for so long for this very outcome is understandable and healthy, as the tension and stress caused by this threatened monstrosity has been immense on all rural communities. Congratulations to my comrades at CAP, DAP, BBAP, and all the other AP organisations too numerous to mention. Take a bow, people, you beat Goliath. Party, party, party!

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But before the feeling of happiness even begins to spread, doubt comes rushing back. What is the significance of the timing? Does the change of plan necessitate a new consultation process? What is this “new” technology and what conditions need to be satisfied? What of the rest of the country?

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I hate to be a party-pooper, but I believe these questions need to be answered before we can start popping corks.

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What is the significance of the timing?
Amidst rumours of a snap election, which always seem to flourish when there is an election on the not-too-distance horizon, the average citizen is immediately suspicious of any feel-good-factor announcement like tax cuts, free payouts, school building programmes, education grants and so on. Even our local road has been patched up after years of neglect.

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These are the first signs that the government is thinking about the election; before this, they were too arrogant to give a damn about how we felt. There has been scant consideration of the issues that Kenny and Bruton clearly find irritating and trivial – homelessness, fuel poverty, disability, unemployment, public health, security of homes, childhood leukaemia …and so on.

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EirGrid would have us believe that this was not a sudden political decision but that they have been thinking about it for some time:

“The ‘regional option’ alternative was first published by EirGrid in March 2015, in its ‘Your Grid Your Views’ draft strategy document where the company set out three strategic pillars for developing the grid; open engagement with communities, making the most of new technologies and a commitment to make the existing grid work harder before building new transmission infrastructure.”

I have already reviewed the bunkum contained in the abovementioned strategy document which is so vague it is possible to interpret it to mean anything you want. Despite pressing EirGrid for more details at the time, these were not supplied. Are they willing to supply them now, or will that have to wait until after the election?

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Can the unthinkable happen and immediately after the election EirGrid turns around and says “Ha, we got you!” ?

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EirGrid is certainly keeping that possibility open:

“Given EirGrid’s clear preference for the regional option, which does not involve any development of any new overhead lines or any significant sections of underground cable, it would appear that the Grid Link overhead line and underground cable options are unlikely to be implemented in the short to medium term,” it said.
“In the longer term, should such options be revived in the future, it is likely that there would be need for considerable scrutiny at that stage.”

Unthinkable, because if EirGrid or the Minister did do a post-election turn-around there would be open rebellion and most likely violence. The strain of the battle against EirGrid has had a huge effect on rural communities. Whilst uniting them against the common enemy, it has also been an exhausting energy-sapping marathon that often dominates every hour of the day. People will welcome the announcement as a way to ease that tension, and attempt to salvage what remains of a normal life. God forbid EirGrid go back on their word, because the backlash of anger and frustration that would unleash would be catastrophic.

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The cat is also out of the bag. EirGrid is unable to sustain the fiction of increased demand. The facts are too obvious and present even the FG/Labour spin doctors with an impossible challenge. The demand was never there – it was invented to justify the wind farms. Now that the wind farms have been revealed as close to useless and applications for further wind farms are being refused, the GridLink project has been shown to be insane, both politically and financially.

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The ‘new’ technology was ‘invented’ because EirGrid have been caught with their pants down (again). Minister Alex White can see his career going the same way as his predecessor, Pat Rabbitte, another victim of the contradiction that is EirGrid. The Minister is already under considerable pressure over the never-to-be-seen wind farm guidelines, exacerbated by the much-publicised row with his Labour Party and Cabinet colleague Alan Kelly (supported by Fine Gael’s Paudie Coffey) over the actual clearance distance between wind farms and residences. It is likely that Enda Kenny (bearing in mind that the Labour Party’s days as a significant political entity are numbered) will be looking at replacing Minister White with a Minister from his own party – Paudie Coffey. The question is: who will get the chop over the EirGrid / wind farm fiasco – White or Kelly? My money is on White.

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EirGrid’s boss Fintan Slye must be causing Minister White some headaches as well. Unlike the above-mentioned Ministers, he is not dependant on the public vote for his job, and accordingly does not seem to mind when critics consistently point out the contradictions in his plentiful public statements (the man can talk!). Minister White must have winced on many an occasion when Fintan took the microphone.

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It was not that long ago that Mr Slye adamantly declared that there was no feasible alternative to overhead pylons. He then contradicted that statement by saying undergrounding might be an option but that it would cost ten times more than overground pylons. This ‘cost analysis’ of undegrounding was subsequently revised to ‘three times more’ than the cost of pylons when his own experts contradicted him. Now he is stating that the series compensation technology is a feasible alternative to pylons. Series compensation has been around for a long time and was certainly available when Mr Slye stated that there were no alternatives to pylons.

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Is it possible to take Mr Slye seriously? How long will Minister White be prepared to take that risk?

slye and rabbitte slye and white

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What is the ‘new’ technology?
I am cautiously optimistic that GridLink has indeed gone away. But with what will it be replaced? What is this ‘new technology’?

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For a start, it is not new. Series compensation has been used in Russia and America for almost a decade. The ‘newness’ claimed by EirGrid is really the scale they intend to use. Originally designed to cover huge spaces in huge countries, EirGrid is now contemplating its use to cover the power lines between Cork and Kildare.

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This quotation is from the Thyristor website (purveyors of the ABB technology that was suggested to EirGrid in many of the submissions made to it but which were completely ignored at the time):

“Series compensation is a well established technology that is primarily used to reduce transfer reactances, most notably in bulk transmission corridors. The result is a significant increase in the transient and voltage stability in transmission systems.
Series compensation with thyristor control (TCSC) enables rapid dynamic modulation of the inserted reactance. At interconnection points between transmission grids, this modulation will provide strong damping torque on inter-area electromechanical oscillations. As a consequence, a TCSC rated at around 100 Mvar makes it possible to interconnect grids having generating capacity in the many thousands of megawatts. Often the TCSC is combined with fixed series compensation to increase transient stability in the most cost effective way.”

(http://new.abb.com/facts/thyristor-controlled-series-compensation)

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As I understand it (not having a technical brain at all) it means juicing up the existing lines to allow them to carry much heavier currents.

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And this is the first condition that needs to be met before we can even half-believe EirGrid. Now (i.e. before the election) they need to show us just how this system will work and exactly how much the existing lines will be able to carry when modified with this series compensation. Sceptics claim that the existing lines will never be able to carry 400kV, no matter what the ‘new’ technology is. This is a cause for concern, if 400kV is indeed necessary.

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There is also the question of the health implications of this new technology. It has been suggested that the electromagnetic field of these souped-up lines will be stronger and closer to the ground and therefore the EMF hazards associated with this technology will be worse than that envisaged with the super pylons. As this ‘new’ technology was originally designed for huge deserted areas, it would not be a problem in that environment, but in a small and relatively densely populated area, the risk might very well be amplified.

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What of the rest of the country?

Is this an elaborate divide and rule strategy?

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Another unlikely consequence of the battle against EirGrid has been the linking up and mutual support shown by community groups all over the country. Even as I write this, national organisations like Rethink Pylons and Wind Aware Ireland are coordinating efforts across the country to target politicians in advance of the election. It is really the only good thing that EirGrid has done for this country: to bring communities back together again. Early accusations of nimbyism by Rabbitte and his cronies soon disintegrated in the face of overwhelming national cohesion of the anti-pylon/anti-wind community groups. I would plead with those groups along the GridLink route to continue the campaign in support of the other victims of the Grid25 menace.

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The support from the South-East for the communities battling the Grid West and North-South interconnectors has been immense, and vice-versa, not only in terms of expertise and resources, but also in terms of solidarity on a grassroots level. This is not only a threat to EirGrid, but is also a political threat to an increasingly unpopular government (if that is possible, we might have already reached saturation point) and this is clearly a major worry for the FG/Labour coalition.

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If people in the South-East think that they can relax and put their feet up (and who would blame them?) does this also mean that the GridWest and North-South opposition groups will find themselves isolated and marginalised? Is this part of the Plan?

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Whatever the outcome of the GridLink Project, it is essential that we continue to support our comrades opposing the GridWest and North-South projects, given that they are being carried on the back of the same artifically-created demand, and that we continue to oppose the Grid25 Programme for the lunacy that it is.

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Coupled with that is the ongoing fight against wind farms, which are still trying to pop up all over the country. Again, the tide is turning on that front, with investors and large sectors of the public, realising that wind farms are unreliable, overly expensive, dangerous, and most definitely not green. GridLink and GridWest are the result of an artificially created demand in anticipation of the plethora of wind farm applications. If the wind farms are scrapped, Grid25 becomes obsolete. We need to push hard for the scrapping of subsidies, as has happened in other countries. We need to turn our attention to that struggle now. GridLink was a victory, but it was only a battle – we have yet to win the war.

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A new project?
From a legal perspective, Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment in Article (2) defines “plans and programmes” to mean

“plans and programmes, including those co-financed by the European Community, as well as any modifications to them” (my emphasis).
– which are subject to preparation and/or adoption by an authority at national, regional or local level or which are prepared by an authority for adoption, through a legislative procedure by Parliament or Government, and
– which are required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions”.

In other words, the adoption of the series compensation technology, and the changing of the route, might constitute a new programme which means the entire process (full public consultation, environmental impact assessment, etc. etc.) would need to begin again.

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These are tricky issues that need to be resolved before victory is declared and the fight against EirGrid can cease.

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The last word must go to Fintan Slye, who very generously stated:

“I am very pleased today to confirm that we will now be moving ahead to deliver what I believe is a better option for all concerned,” he said, adding his thanks to those “who took the time to engage with us and provided us with such valuable feedback”.

It was a pleasure, Fintan. Come back soon for your next arse-kicking.

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from practice in 2002 to take up a full-time lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). He is an accredited and practising mediator and is busy writing a book, with Dr Sinead Conneely, on Mediation in Ireland. His current interest is Ireland’s energy policy and its impact on the people and the environment. He is also researching the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
This entry was posted in EirGrid; Insurance; Law; Cancer; EMF and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to An Election Ploy?

  1. Peter Sweetman says:

    Neil your post presumes that they are capable of joined up thinking, are they?

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