Laois campaigners want ESB to pull plug on €110 million electricity hub in wake of cable leakage

Electricity company its plan for Laois substation is safe

Conor Ganly


Conor Ganly

Laois campaigners want ESB to pull plug on €110 millio electricity hub in wake of cable leakage

This is what the Coolnabacca substation will look like.

Campaigners have called on the ESB to drop plans for a big electricity hub in Laois in the wake of an RTÉ Investigation into electricity cable oil leaks.

The Ratheniska Spink Timahoe (RTS) Action Group wants ESB / Eirgrid to pull the plug on its €110 Laois substation. RTS says the hub at Coolnabacca will involve storing 600 tons of oil over a regionally important underground water supply. “They have chosen the wrong project for the wrong site and must abandon their plan,” say the RTS.

The group says the planned Laois development also contains SF6, a gas that featured in the Primetime programme.

“The EPA has reliably informed us that Laois County Council is ultimately responsible for groundwater sources. We are calling on the Laois County Council CEO and the senior executive to act decisively now to protect this precious water resource and finally tell Eirgrid and ESB that this €110 million euro project be immediately withdrawn as the community will never trust ESB with our water supply,” said the statement.

Primetime revealed that huge amounts of insulation oil and other substances have leaked from old cables in Dublin.

In response, the ESB said the Laois Kilkenny reinforcement project is required to enhance the quality and security of electricity supply in counties Laois, Kilkenny, Carlow and Kildare. It said this project is necessary to address the security and quality of supply in these regions.

It acknowledged that residents were concerned but insisted that steps have been taken in the planning process.

"Some residents in the area have expressed concerns that water from the aquifer will be contaminated during the construction of the substation at Coolnabacky or during its subsequent use.

"We are fully aware of the aquifer and its importance to local residents. Because of this, we conducted a thorough analysis of any possible impacts on it as part of the planning application documentation. The analysis showed that there is a solid layer of stiff clay subsoil approximately six metres thick above the aquifer at the location of the substation. The presence of this clay subsoil will impede any vertical flow of water to the underlying aquifer. This would prevent any possible contamination of the aquifer.

"There is some water present in the subsoils. We have designed specific measures to ensure that any dewatering of excavations at the construction stage does not in any way impact on the surrounding streams or bedrock aquifer during the construction of the substation and its subsequent use," it said.

The ESB said An Bord Pleanála, the planning authority for the project, "comprehensively evaluated the alleged risk to groundwater".

"It reviewed our planning documentation and the concerns raised by local residents. The An Bord Pleanála inspector concluded that “it appears that the substation at Coolnabacky can be constructed without undue risk to local groundwater sources. The development could be carried out and operated satisfactorily from an ecological standpoint.”

"As part of the planning conditions, ESB Networks will submit to the local authority a detailed construction and environmental management plan which will set out how environmental issues will be managed at the construction stage. This will detail with mitigations around the protection of surrounding groundwater and watercourses during the construction stage of the project," it said.

The electricity company added that during the operational phase of the project, best practice design measures ensure contaminants are contained in bunded areas in the event of a leak or spillage. 

It also addressed the issue of the old electricity cables.

"ESB Networks is of the view that the matters raised recently should not give rise for concern in relation to the safe operation and maintenance of the electricity network for employees or the general public. Performance in relation to fluid filled cables in 2019 is in line with similar utilities in Europe.

"Throughout ESB Networks, we remain committed to ensure that the electricity network is operated to the highest standards in regard to the safety of the public, our staff, our contract partners and the environment. We understand that a primary focus of the issues raised relates to fluid-filled cables. It is important to note that the cable insulating fluid is classified as non-hazardous and readily biodegradable. Notwithstanding this, ESB Networks acknowledges that it is preferable to minimise and eliminate leaks. To that end, ESB Networks continues to invest in repair technology and is engaged in a long-term cable replacement programme," it said.

Laois TD Brian Stanley called on the ESB to say where other pipes have leaked around Ireland. The company declined to comment on this.

It also declined to say when the Coolnabacca project would begin.