Eirgrid has admitted that the substation planed for Ratheniska will be needed to connect power from wind farms into the electricity grid.
Four days into an intense public planning permission hearing last week in Portlaoise, the State-owned company’s technical manager, Mark Norton, confirmed the potential use, under questioning by David Malone of the Environmental Action Alliance Ireland.
“It is correct, we are obliged to connect any application, whether for demand or for renewable, but we have no applications at the moment,” he said.
The semi-state company has applied to An Bord Pleanála to build an electrical substation of unspecified size near Ratheniska, and to install a network of overhead powerlines, connecting to Kilkenny, Portlaoise and Athy, with capacity for future unspecified connections.
Coillte are seeking to built an 18 turbine windfarm near the site, and are appealing a council rejection of their plan.
The Laois Kilkenny Reinforcement Project is part of a nationwide €3.2bn network upgrade that Eirgrid plan to complete by 2025, with this section being necessary by 2016. Eigrid say this is needed to ensure a safe, secure electricity supply for the future.
Eirgrid spent most of the first two days explaining the project, and the studies they conducted to prove Coolnabacca is the right location, and will not harm the ecology, heritage, water quality, soil or health of residents.
Angry Ratheniska residents and politicians including Deputy Sean Fleming and Senator John Whelan, challenged Eirgrid on many points, including their lack of public consultation up to the time of the hearing, the lack of an Environmental Impact Statement with their initial application, and missing information from their Non-Technical Summary.
Ballyroan shopkeeper Ray Ryan noted a major flaw in Eirgrid’s water survey, showing that they measured groundwater depths during the dryest spell of the past two years, March 2012, and during the drought of last summer.
“One would have to be seriously concerned about their measurements. A substation is supposed to be built on Zone C land with a flood risk of once in 1,000 years.
“This field is called Lowry’s Bog, In my own yard in Coolnabacca, a flood caused four feet of water in the last 25 years, animals had to be rescued,” he said.
He noted that there were 14 wells in Coolnabacca.
“These wells were never mentioned in their application, despite my submissions,” he said.
He added that the proposal to put a holding tank instead of a septic tank at the station showed it was unsuitable.
“If this was a private house, it would probably not get permission,” Mr Ryan said.
The hearing, presided over by Inspector Andrew Boyle of An Bord Pleanála, will resume this Thursday November 14.