Eirgrid admitted it failed to fully investigate the potential for undergrounding the controversial Grid West Project and today announced details of a possible underground route.
“The underground option hadn’t got the depth and breadth of analysis that was appropriate,” said Fintan Slye, Eirgrid Chief Executive at the announcement in Castlebar.
Undergrounding had previously been dismissed outright as an option by Eirgrid and there has been fervent local opposition to the project. In January this year Eirgrid said a comprehensive study on the feasibility of undergrounding would be carried out. The potential new 113km underground route, which is being considered in tandem with the previously identified overhead corridor, will run between Crossmolina and Ballina, down the east side of Lough Conn, northeast of Foxford and north of Charlestown, Ballaghaderreen and Frenchpark to the Flagford substation area, southwest of Carrick-on-Shannon.
The proposed route will mostly run along the existing road network from north Mayo to Flagford in Co Roscommon. Eirgrid said the route will avoid national roads and towns and has been picked in consultation with Mayo County Council and the National Roads Authority. When investigations are completed the underground and overground options will be submitted to the Independent Commission set up by the Government in January. Public consultation will be taking place and a number of open days will be held beginning in Moygownagh Community Hall on Monday, July 7.
There has been speculation that the cost of undergrounding the project could be two to three times higher than the overhead option. Eirgrid stressed that cost is not the only factor under consideration but stated that any extra costs would have to be borne by electricity bill payers. “This is not dictated by one criteria, be that cost or be that environmental or technical. You have to weigh up all the criteria and work out which one is best,” said Mr Slye.
Eirgrid said that their proposed underground option is “very feasible.” Eleven river crossings and a railway crossing along the route are obstacles to overcome and extensive landowners consultation will be required with around 400 properties identified along the route.
Some opponents of the project are sceptical of the announcement and its timing. Eddie Farrell of the Moy Valley Protection Group said the news comes following “the kicking Fine Gael took in the local elections.” Independent councillor Seamus Weir withdrew from the Fine Gael party because of the contentious project. He said he is “hopeful” that the undergrounding option will be fully considered and possibly implemented.