We rarely had a power cut... until a new line was put up which we were told would SECURE supply!

My home has been plagued by dozens — and I am not exaggerating a whit — and dozens of power cuts, despite a new power line in our locality, so says John Dolan
We rarely had a power cut... until a new line was put up which we were told would SECURE supply!

ENERGY OLD AND NEW: Blackouts could turn the lights out in Ireland this winter

IT was mid-September, 2012, and I had on my best suit when I stood up to speak at a public hearing in a room in the Castle Hotel, Macroom.

I’d given public speeches before, but I must admit I was nervous that day.

Before me were three officials from An Bord Pleanala, on my right were a raft of employees of Eirgrid, the semi-state company responsible for delivering our electricity from where it is generated to where it is needed.

If that was daunting, at least I was among friends. 

I was stood with a group of local people who had come together to form a group to oppose Eirgrid’s proposed new power line in our locality. Behind me were members of the public who were also solidly behind our campaign.

We had managed to lobby for an An Bord Pleanala hearing into plans to erect a new power line across our beautiful section of the Lee Valley in mid-Cork.

We opposed this for several reasons, including the fact we already had two power lines, that we lived in a scenic area of natural beauty, and a few in the group also had concerns about the alleged health issues of living close to overhead power lines.

Members of our campaign had been invited to speak against the plan, and I was first up. I had decided to home in on a key aspect of Eirgrid’s proposal: That a new line was needed to secure the supply of power in the area.

“Neither I, nor any of my colleagues with me here, can recall any serious issues with our power supply in recent times,” I said. “We are perfectly happy with the two lines we already have. We don’t require a third.”

It was true. I had lived in the area since 2002 and in that decade up to then, I couldn’t recall a single black-out. I had consulted local people and they said the same.

It was the central plank of our objection: that the new power line was not needed, wanted, or desired, because we already had two 100KV lines and our power supply was perfectly stable, thank-you very much.

I also recall we felt that Eirgrid’s proposal hinged on population projections taken at the height of the boom. By 2012, a recession had led to emigration and the downgrading of population sizes.

A few weeks after that public hearing, An Bord Pleanala came back with their verdict. We had lost our fight. The power line would go ahead.

It was disappointing, but it wasn’t a surprise. Taking on state and semi-state companies is a nigh on impossible task.

Ah well, I remember thinking, we gave it our best shot. At least our already secure power supply would be even more secure now!

But I was wrong.

Eventually, the new power line, running for 40km from Clashavoon, north-east of Macroom, to Dunmanway, was erected.

But guess what?

Since that day nine years ago when we lost our anti-pylons campaign, my home has been plagued by dozens — and I am not exaggerating a whit — and dozens of power cuts.

Some of them, such as during Storm Darwin in 2014, which upended a tree and knocked down our lines, are excusable. But nearly of them are not. Sometimes, there is barely a breath of air, and our power goes. Some of the black-outs last for a few minutes and are merely irritating, others, in the depths of winter, can last for many hours and are a serious concern for a family trying to eat and stay warm.

A power cut also knocks out your broadband, making working from home impossible.

So, why, when we have a third line to secure our supply, are we suddenly having so many outages?

In my darker moments (sometimes literally so) I wonder about the other reason Eirgrid gave back in 2012 for building that third line in our locality — that it would accommodate renewable energies, including wind farms, coming on stream.

And I wonder, since the new line is certainly not securing our power supply, are we paying the price for the dash to transfer to renewable energy? Is our home collatoral damage while Ireland gains brownie points for its greener energy?

It sounds like a mad conspiracy theory, but I’m at a loss as to what benefit the extra line has bestowed on our region, apart from a string of ugly pylons put on prime land.

My home power supply, now akin to that of a third world country, came to mind this week when I read of warnings that black-outs this winter cannot be ruled out across the country due to a shortage of electricity supply.

My first thought was: Welcome to my world. Then I delved deeper and started to wonder what was really going on here.

The Department of Environment told the Examiner the threat of widespread power cuts was so serious, it plans to increase the availability of existing generators, develop new generation capacity, and introduce changes to the grid connection of data centres — which have been blamed for piling pressure on our energy grid — as it battles to keep the lights on.

This followed on from a warning about the risk of black-outs earlier this year by EirGrid and energy regulator the CRU.

For a country as rich as Ireland — or at least one which is allowed to borrow colossal sums at low interest rates — this is all most unedifying.

We’re told we have a wealth of wind and wave (if not solar much of the time!) power at our disposal, and can also fall back on old fuels if needed. So if the entire country starts having as many power cuts this winter as we have become accustomed to in my house, it will not reflect well at all on either our politicians or the businesses we rely on to deliver it.

The popular excuse for this situation is that data centres are swallowing up so much demand, but can it also be said that Ireland is over-stretching itself to reach green energy targets?

To address the fear of a winter of outages, we are told that two electricity plants, including one at Whitegate in Cork Harbour, which have been out of action for months, will be restored post haste just in time to stave off the risk of winter power cuts. It all sounds very late in the day.

It also makes you wonder if the likely pending closure of power plants, including the Republic’s biggest at Moneypoint in Co Clare, is a wise move, given our precarious current supply.

Are our politicians preparing to compromise on our energy supply in order to meet climate change targets? If so, it’s imperative that officialdom keeps people in the loop.

It’s entirely possible that some homeowners and businesses will accept some small disruptions if it’s saving the planet. But it’s also entirely possible that many more will find being deprived of their power to be a step too far — red alert on climate action or not.

When it comes to our power supply, it is advisable not to keep people in the dark.

Have you experienced more power cuts than normal in recent years? Email me at john.dolan@theecho.ie

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