Eirgrid has issued a statement welcoming what it perceives as a "government commitment" to its proposed North South 400kV Interconnection project.
The statement comes after the government, this week, identified the project as one of the key energy infrastructure projects it wants to see delivered in its Infrastructural and Capital Investment Programme 2016-2021.
It comes as An Bord Pleanála is considering a planning application by Eirgrid to erect some 400 pylons across Cavan, Monaghan, Meath, Armagh and Tyrone.
A statement from Eirgrid today said: "The Report states: 'Interconnection of electricity networks between North and South bring benefits including costs savings for electricity customers, a more reliable energy supply, reducing the risk of shortages, and a more efficient energy network, with greater connection of wind generation which will help achieve Ireland’s renewable energy targets. The new high capacity interconnector will bring benefits to residents and businesses on both sides of the border.'"
The Eirgrid statement also points to the General Election Manifesto launched this week by the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), which called for "greater leadership" on delivering infrastructural projects of strategic importance "such as the North – South Interconnector".
Welcoming the support for the project, John Fitzgerald, director of Grid Development and Interconnection with EirGrid, said: “Not only will the interconnection of the networks between North and South result in cost savings for electricity consumers on both sides of the border and reduce the risk of shortages, it will also help Ireland to achieve its renewable energy targets,” he said.
The North East Pylon Pressure Committee (NEPCC) group is leading opposition to the controversial plans and has long since been campaign for the lines to be put underground. Health concerns, damage to heritage, scenery, land values and agricultural practices are the main reasons cited.
Eirgrid has resisted the undregrounding option, claiming that it would be more expensive and less practical for ongoing maintainance and repairs.
The deadline for submissions to Eirgrid's plans passed on August 24 last with around 1,500 submissions received including around 830 under the NEPPC.
The NEPPC has said that the numbers were “a huge message of solidarity against EirGrid’s plans”.
A spokesperson for the group said: “The huge number of objections submitted by NEPPC does not include individual submissions or submissions from other campaign groups. In total, it is estimated that there were well over 2,000 objections."
In 2010, when an error on the planning notices sensationally forced Eirgrid to withdraw its plans in the middle of oral hearings, some 940 submissions were logged.
Other groups and individuals listed as having made a submission to the current plans with An Bord Pleanála include the members of Cavan County Council, one Noel Meade, Kingscourt Stars GFC, Corduff-Raferagh Community Council, ICMSA Cavan and Kingscourt farmer and anti-wind farm campaigner Val Martin.
EirGrid, meanwhile, is currently reviewing and analysing submissions received by Bord Pleanála about the North South 400kV Interconnection Development. It is expected that an oral hearing will be held as part of the planning process.
The EirGrid project team is on the ground in Cavan, Monaghan and Meath to answer questions and it is encouraging members of the public to visit the EirGrid information offices to discuss any queries or concerns. The team can be contacted on Lo Call 1890 252 6901 and meetings can be arranged at the EirGrid offices in Cootehill, Navan or Carrickmacross.
At the same time, a comprehensive programme of community engagement is also ongoing through the recently appointed Community Liaison Officers and Agricultural Liaison Officers.
Mr Fitzgerald added: “As with any large infrastructure project, we understand that there are concerns. Our project team and liaison officers want to meet anyone who has a concern about the project. We will do our utmost to work with them to resolve their issues and allay their concerns. The bottom line is that this is a critical project for communities North and South of the border and it is important that it’s delivered as soon as possible.”