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Incoming Eirgrid chairman faces TDs and Senators amid ongoing pylons controversy

One senator has already said he will oppose the appointment of John O’Connor as the chairman of the the body responsible for the development and maintenance of the State’s electricity grid.

Image: Electricity pylon via Shutterstock

Updated 11.11am

THE INCOMING CHAIRMAN of Eirgrid comes before an Oireachtas Committee today amid ongoing controversy about the company’s Gridlink project in the east of the country.

John O’Connor’s appearance before the Oireachtas Transport and Communications Committee will likely see him face questions over plans to erect large electricity pylons, as part of an update to the country’s energy infrastructure, which have faced opposition from local residents.

Those opposing the plans argue that the cabling could and should be placed underground, but there have been warnings that this will increase the cost and have a knock-on affect on electricity prices.

Labour TDs, senators and councillors held a behind-closed-doors meeting with Communication and Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte on the fringes of the Labour conference at the weekend where the belief was that the Minister had a ‘change of attitude’ on the subject.

Sentor Denis Landy said last night in a statement that a cost-benefit analysis would show that underground cabling would reduce the cost.

“I believe if such an analysis is done, this will prove that the current figure of 3 to 1 cost of underground versus overhead will be blown out of the water,” he said. “In fact some research that I have seen on this issue indicates to me that underground will actually be cheaper overall.”

A public consultation on the scheme has been pushed out to 7 January.

Meanwhile, O’Connor is also likely to be questioned over claims of an alleged conflict of interest having been previously the chairman of An Bord Pleanala. But he denies any conflict, pointing out that he left the planning board two years ago.

Labour senator John Whelan has said he will oppose O’Connor’s appointment and has previously been highly critical of Rabbitte over the appointment.

Ahead of the hearing today, committee chairman Fine Gael’s John O’Mahony said: “He will have the opportunity to outline what he sees as the priorities and challenges for the commercial state company in the immediate period ahead and into the future.”

The committee meets with Eirgrid’s chief executive Fintan Slye tomorrow morning.

Separately, Fianna Fáil is bringing forward a private members’ motion in the Dáil tonight, calling for an independent assessment of the plans from Eirgrid.

“Many of the residents’ groups that have raised concerns about the impact of overhead pylons say there has been a lack of consultation by Eirgrid, issues have also been raised about the health and safety impact of having high voltage power lines so close to people’s homes,” the party’s communications and energy spokesperson Michael Moynihan said.

First published 8.49am

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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