DUBLIN, Ireland, July 20 (UPI) -- Long-delayed plans to build a $200 million north-south electricity interconnector in Ireland must be completed, the country's energy minister said this week.
Irish Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte, speaking to Ireland's Dail, said the much-debated proposal for a 400-kilovolt, above-ground line from County Meath northwest of Dublin to Tyrone, Northern Ireland, remains a key part of the government's energy infrastructure policy.
Plans for the 250-mile line -- first introduced in 2006 -- were dealt a blow in 2010 when gaffes in Irish transmission grid operator EirGrid's application, combined with fierce local opposition in County Monaghan near the Northern Ireland border, led to its withdrawal.
Since then, EirGrid has been preparing a new application but has yet to submit it to Ireland's independent administrative tribunal An Bord Pleanala.
"The matter should immediately return to planning in order to meet the delivery date of 2017," Rabbitte said in the address, which officially laid out the energy policy goals and strategy of the government of Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
At the same time, Rabbitte said he counts "social acceptance and the appropriateness" as a priority among his energy policies, calling for operators to "address and mitigate (the) human, environmental and landscape impacts" of their projects.
The north-south interconnector would address a series of key goals in Ireland's energy picture, EirGrid contends. It would encourage the growth of renewable energy, ensure a "reliable supply of high quality power," reduce the need for capital investment in power stations and provide security of supply in Ireland's northeast, the TSO says.
It would also help efforts to create a single electricity market in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
The line's visual and social impact would be "entirely similar" to those of existing high-voltage lines running from Moneypoint Power Station on the country's west coast and to substations in Counties Meath and Kildare, the company said.
But it drew immediate opposition from local residents and Ireland's Sinn Fein party, who demanded the lines be buried underground to avoid health risks to those living along the planned route.
Opponents discovered EirGrid's application failed to include the correct height of the line's pylons, and the company withdrew the application shortly thereafter.
A pair of reports issued this year contended the costs of "undergrounding" the lines would significantly boost the project's cost. One, carried out by an independent panel of experts, said using underground cables would see its price tag rise from $200 million to $600 million.
Opponents, however, disputed their conclusions.
"The report commissioned by the government failed to take into consideration the resulting fall in the value of property and land in the area," Peadar Toibin, a Sinn Fein Dail member from County Meath, said in a statement. "It failed to take into consideration health costs and costs to tourism and agriculture in Meath and the other counties."
Also left out of the calculations were "the costs consequent to future delays and litigation if Eirgrid persists with seeking to foist their project on the communities along the route," he said.