The planned upgrading of the electricity transmission network in the West is as important a piece of infrastructure as the M6 and will help ensure the region’s competitiveness into the future, Grid West Project Manager Alan McHugh tells Lorraine O’Hanlon
State-owned commercial company Eirgrid is expected to publish an in-depth report on its planned €240 million investment in the West’s energy infrastructure early next month.
Known as Grid West, the project will initially consist of a new high capacity 400kV power line around 120km in length linking Bellacorick, Mayo to a strong point on the transmission grid either in Galway or Roscommon.
The preferred corridor route is to be identified by the end of the summer following consultation with the public and stakeholders, with planning application expected to be submitted to An Bord Pleanala in 2015. Subject to approval, it is expected that the project will be completed by 2019.
Project Manager Alan McHugh explains that there is currently a need for one line between Bellacorick and either the existing 220kV substation at Cashla in Co. Galway or Flagford in Co. Roscommon but that, in time, lines to both locations will need to be installed to fully exploit the region’s capacity for renewable energy generation, in particular wind energy.
He adds that, while around 100 people are currently employed on the project and around 300 are expected to work on the three-year-long construction phase, in the longer term the development will aid the creation of significant additional employment and inward investment in the region, as well as improving our competitiveness when it comes to energy generation.
“The West is competing with the rest of Ireland, it’s competing with areas outside of Ireland because there’s an interconnector across the border to Northern Ireland and then one over the Scotland and Eirgrid has just completed a project to join the network in the Republic to the UK across the Irish Sea, so we’re now competing; electricity that’s produced in Britain is being traded against electricity being traded in Ireland and that’s an amazing opportunity for anybody involved in the industry in Ireland because it opens up huge markets. The British market is about ten times the size of the Irish market,” he says.
And Mr McHugh believes energy generation is not the only area that jobs could be created as a result of the upgrading of our network. “The region will be able to develop its renewable energy resources, that in itself creates jobs directly but also indirectly and, of course, the major indirect benefit is in the incentivisation for companies to locate into the West of Ireland, where this good infrastructure is. This infrastructure is as important as the motorway network, as the M6, it’s as important as your high capacity gas pipelines, your high speed broadband.”
Mr McHugh believes that such infrastructure will attract high tech companies, such as data centres and pharmaceutical firms, which will want to link into the planned new high capacity 400kV line “because it’s a secure, reliable and efficient source of power”.
However, the development will have broader national benefits, as the more efficient the infrastructure, the lower electricity prices.
The overall project is part of ‘Grid25: A Strategy for the Development of Ireland’s Electricity Grid for a Sustainable and Competitive Future’, which aims to manage the shift away from fossil fuel based energy generation towards renewable resources. The plan also aims to meet changing usage needs, for example with the advent of the electric cars, and increasing populations in certain areas.
“The network is perfectly fit for purpose at the moment, there’s no issue; we’re not having blackouts and that’s the number one objective. The most fundamental objective we have is keep the lights on…but if we don’t invest in the network into the future, that is a risk that that will happen. And if you don’t invest, there is a risk that you won’t get the follow-on investment that likes to be beside this infrastructure, so it is absolutely critical in terms of job creation and sustainability for the region,” says Mr McHugh.
And he stresses the consultation with the public and other stakeholders such as community groups, local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency is key to ensuring the project’s completion.
Responding to health concerns associated with the Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF) emitted from electricity lines or cables, Mr McHugh points out that Eirgrid operates the national transmission network well within standards set by bodies such as the European Commission and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
“It’s a fundamental issue to us, the health and safety of the public and the people working for Eirgrid and on our behalf is a paramount,” he says.
Acknowledging that there is a “long road ahead” for Grid West, he says: “There is a need for balance; it’s major infrastructure, it’s impossible for it to have no impact, what you can do is mitigate the impacts down to such an extent that you have an acceptable development for the benefit of everyone and everybody can see the benefits and accrue the benefits as well in time.”
Public open days on Grid West are expected to be held in Galway City and Athenry next month. For more information on the project, Lo-Call 1890-940802 or log onto www.eirgridprojects.com.