RATHENISKA residents have won the first round in their battle against the State company that wants to build a big electricity substation in their backyard.
Following a meeting with the Ratheniska residents Laois County Councillors forced an amendment to the new Laois County Development plan which could halt the project by banning high-powered electricity lines on pylons.
In what could be the first such ban, the councillors agreed to amend their development plan to force Eirgrid to bury all new high powered 400kv cables underground.
In doing so the councillors have effectively forced a final decision on the Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan who will be able to veto their ban. A key reason for the substation is to improve the supply to Killkenny – Minister Hogan’s constituency.
The councillors agreed the change ahead of last week’s meeting to amend the plan in response to the residents action group in Ratheniska and surrounding areas
While there was unanimity among councillors, there was confusion over what parts of the plan to change but Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald cut to the chase by insisting that any references to the Eirgrid project should be changed.
“Do we accept this or give them a blank cheque,” she said.
Eirgrid told the Leinster Express that what the council has proposed “has not been tried anywhere in the world”. It also stopped short of saying that the councillors move would not affect their plans.
Mr Colm Fingleton of the residents has welcomed the councillors decision which he said was the first in Ireland to oppose pylons.
“We are delighted that they have taken the big step. We have great support from the councillors and we appreciate it. They can see the sort of long term damage that these power lines can do. There has to be a better way of dealing with it,” said Colm Fingleton.
Eirgrid was reluctant to comment but said the plan would have to go for further consultation if significant changes were made. A spokesperson said councillors may not fully understand the complex issues.
She said there have been 400 kv pylons in Laois since the 1980s. While she said Eirgrid could not interfere with the democratic process she said it was not possible to underground significant lengths of high-powered lines. She said the technology is not available. She admitted, however, that Eirgrid would only be erecting a 1.5 km of ppower line to facilitate the substation.
She added there were no health concerns about pylons. Asked if the move does not stop Eirgrid moving ahead the spokesperson said: “I think it would be wrong to say that. I can only say that when the county plan comes back for further consultation we will look at it and comment if necessary at that time.”