Meeting held with Utility Regulator on Interconnector Proposal
Newry and Armagh MLA, Cathal Boylan chaired a meeting he arranged with Iain Osborne, the Utility Regulator, and members of the anti Interconnector pressure groups SEAT and NEPP. Also at the meeting were Danny Kennedy, MLA, (UUP) Maurice Morrow, MLA, (DUP) and Armagh City and District councillor, Mary Doyle, (SF).
The meeting was arranged to allow Mr. Osborne, in his role as Utility Regulator, to hear first hand about the concerns of residents along the proposed route, represented by Jim Lennon and Julie Ann Denvir of SEAT and Liam Cahill and Dr. Colin Andrews of NEPP.
At the outset the Sinn Féin representative made clear the office of the Utility Regulator had limited guidelines, ‘…which were purely in relation to the consumer and though those present may well touch on the more emotive issues such as health and the environment, that these issues were not in the Regulators domain and would not influence his thinking on the issue.’
Inviting the other elected representatives to make opening statements before Mr. Osborne made his position clear, DUP representative Maurice Morrow, speaking in his capacity as a Dungannon councillor said, ‘…he has had meetings with many residents on this issue and that the Council had concerns on the health and environmental impacts…’, UUP MLA, Danny Kennedy spoke about the ‘..very strong representation being made in opposition to the scheme…’, meanwhile Armagh Sinn Féin councillor, Mary Doyle, explained she was at the meeting as ‘…the proposed route will run through a very large part of the ward she represents, that there was a lot of concerned constituents and she was here to voice those concerns on their behalf.’
Addressing the meeting, Mr. Osborne stressed that his role is about ensuring the interests of the consumer, short and long term, to have a network fit for purpose at the lowest possible cost. It was the opinion of the Utility Regulators office that the proposed over head power lines were the most viable option to ensure these options were met.
Jim Lennon stated that NIE had not done a proper economic appraisal and had not taken into account the costs of the devaluation of homes along the route into their overall costs for the project.
Meanwhile, Dr. Colin Andrew said concerned residents believed their was a viable non controversial way for the project to proceed. That the argument put forward by NIE and Eirgrid, that putting these cables underground does not happen anywhere else in the world is untrue – he then produced a letter which clearly stated that Denmark will be putting all future and present electricity cables underground. He also stated that similar projects are taking place throughout France, Holland, Germany and Scandanavia.
The question of how much the project will actually cost was raised by Liam Cahill. He stated that the Electricity companies were quoting different figures depending on what question was asked of them. In reply Mr. Osborne felt this was unsatisfactory and resolved to request a definitive figure from NIE.
The meeting lasted about an hour and everyone agreed that it was a useful and healthy exercise. Commenting, Cathal Boylan said;
‘I appreciate Iain Osborne facilitating this meeting as it is important that every avenue is explored in relation to this proposed project. He has requested that all information relating to similar projects being placed underground be forwarded to him, as when he gave evidence to the Environment Committee in Stormont, of which I am the Vice Chair, he was not aware of any such projects. The Utility Regulator has also agreed to try and get NIE to give a definitive figure as to how much the project will cost as proposed, so that counter proposals can be compared to see if there is indeed the real difference in cost as is being stated. This is just another step in a campaign which still has a long road. As Iain Osborne suggested, it is when NIE apply for planning permission that hard questions will be asked and need to be answered, both by NIE and the Environment Minister.’