Seanad Éireann - Volume 107 - 02 April, 1985
Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 1985: Second and Subsequent Stages.
Minister of State at the Department of Energy (Mr. E. Collins) Minister of State at the Department of Energy (Mr. E. Collins)
Minister of State at the Department of Energy (Mr. E. Collins): The powers of the Electricity Supply Board to place any electric line above or below ground, across any land and to attach to any wall, house, or other building any bracket or other fixture required for the carrying or support of an electric line or any electrical apparatus are set out in section 53 of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1927.
In exercising these powers the ESB make every effort to ensure that they will cause as little inconvenience as possible, or disturbance to property and, indeed, it is an integral part of the board's procedures to visit landowners concerned to discuss with them the route of the electric line and the planned positions of masts. All suggestions for changes made by the landowners are then carefully and fully considered by the board in an effort to meet the wishes of the landowners and changes are made where this can be done within technical and economic limitations and without unreasonably affecting other landowners. Finally, the board issue a wayleave notice in writing to the owner or occupier of the lands in accordance with section 53, subsection (3), of the 1927 Act and if within seven days the owner or occupier of the lands gives consent, or fails to give consent, the ESB may place the electric line across the lands in question. The ESB do, however, pay compensation, but on an ex gratia basis, for the disturbance to farming or for the sterilisation of lands arising from the placing of the electric line over the lands. The amount of compensation paid is based on guidelines agreed with the Irish Farmers' Association.
A problem has arisen for the ESB with regard specifically to subsection (5) of  section 53 of the 1927 Act. The ESB are erecting a 220 Kv transmission line from the generating station at Great Island, Campile, County Wexford, to a transformer station at Arklow, County Wicklow. The route of the line passed over particular lands in County Wexford where the owner objected to the erection of the line and locked out the ESB workers when they attempted to erect the line across the property in accordance with a statutory notice served on the landowner under section 53 of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1927.
The ESB sought and obtained an injunction against the landowner in the High Court in June 1983 when all the various grounds of the owner's case were rejected by the trial judge. The landowner then appealed to the Supreme Court and that court, having heard the case in early February 1985, issued its judgment on Thursday, 21 March 1985.
The court acknowledged clearly the social benefits of electricity and its contribution to the economic welfare of the State and pointed out that the uncontradicted evidence adduced in the case of the necessity for and the value of the transmission line to the national supply system leads to an inescapable conclusion that the power to lay it compulsorily is a requirement of the common good. The court did not, however, accept a contention that the payment of compensation ex gratia in an amount determined by the ESB is to be equated with a right to compensation, lacking as it does the essential ingredient of the ultimate right to have the amount assessed by an independent arbitrator or tribunal. The court was, therefore, satisfied that the compulsory powers contained in section 53 (5) of the Act of 1927 are invalid having regard to the provisions of the Constitution.
Legal advice is that the Supreme Court judgment means that, while the erection of all electricity lines can continue where there are consents or negotiated agreements, the use of the power to enter under section 53 (5), where there is not consent, requires to be supported by a  provision at law for compensation and for the determination of that, in the absence of agreement, by independent arbitration. I do not have to underline for the House the disastrous effect which delays or inability to carry forward their work would have on the ESB's every day operations in the extension of supply to all consumers whether industrial, commercial or domestic. I am confident that the consent and negotiation procedures which the ESB have carried on with landowners and their representatives will continue to be successful in the vast majority of cases, but the court ruling requires an express statutory provision for compensation and on arbitration.
The first 300 MW unit of the Moneypoint generating station is scheduled to come on stream on 1 October 1985. The ESB have scheduled their weekly work programmes, including the erection of the transmission lines to Dublin, to meet this deadline. The board have calculated that every week's delay in meeting the 1 October 1985 deadline will cost the board £1 million in lost benefit through having to meet electricity demand from other higher cost generating capacity rather than from the Money point station. Any delay, therefore, in completing the erection of the 400 K V transmission lines will cost the ESB £1 million for each week's delay.
The House will appreciate the paramount need that the ESB be not held up in proceeding with their work even in cases where consent is not forthcoming. Having regard to the implications for the ESB arising from the Supreme Court judgment, it is imperative that the board's wayleave powers be made constitutional as a matter of extreme urgency. The Bill before the House is designed to achieve that purpose by providing for the entitlement of landowners to compensation in respect of the exercise by the ESB of the powers conferred under section 53 of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1927, such compensation to be assessed, in default of agreement between the ESB and any landowner, under the provisions of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919.
 When this Bill was in the Dáil last week a number of Deputies expressed the hope that the seven day notice in the Act could be increased to, say, 14 days or, at least, to give some better notice. I sympathise with this point of view but I am assured that the ESB have never refused any objection made outside the seven day deadline. On this deadline, I would like to remind the House that the period was 14 days in the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1927 but this was reduced to seven days in an amending Act of 1945 solely to benefit consumers waiting for connection of electricity supply and, particularly in emergency cases, including, for example, local events such as fairs or fetes where supply was required within a very short time scale. Nevertheless, I have undertaken to impress upon the ESB the need to give ample notice and to exercise the greatest care and sensitivity in dealing with landowners' rights.
I would add two further brief comments. The common good in any democracy depends on reasonable people acting, all round, in a reasonable way. Electricity has brought immense benefits to all communities in this country and elsewhere. It has brought immense relief to the darkness, hardship and low levels of comfort in rural life up to the mid fifties. It is perfectly right that landowners' rights should indeed be sensitively dealt with, as I am assured they are, but it is equally right that everybody has a duty not to press his or her private rights to the ultimate, to the obstruction or detriment of the common good.
However, I would emphasise that this Bill will increase and secure further the rights of landowners. It will, of course, enable the ESB to continue with the essential work of expanding the social benefits of electricity to the economic welfare of the State which, as I mentioned earlier, has been acknowledged by the Supreme Court in its judgment, but its primary purpose is to provide for landowners a statutory right to compensation — in place of the ex gratia basis on which the ESB paid compensation heretofore — and to have the amount of the compensation settled by independent  arbitration where this cannot be achieved by negotiation and agreement.
I strongly recommend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Ellis Mr. Ellis
Mr. Ellis: This Bill which the Minister has brought in to amend the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1927 is necessary in the eyes of the public and for the common good, and it gives us an opportunity of looking at some of the other aspects of the ESB's activities. This Bill provides seven days notice for the ESB but if I ask them for a connection I would be lucky to receive it in seven months. This has been a bone of contention especially for people building houses in rural areas who have found that not alone is waiting for connections very time consuming but also that the charges being extracted from them for power supplies are very high. I ask the Minister to take up this point with the ESB because in rural areas people are having major problems with the delay in the provision of power supplies. We can all understand that farmers have to be compensated for the very awkward situations in which they are very often left when the ESB are forced to erect pylons in positions which cause major problems in the use of their farm land. The amount of land lost to those pylons may seem very small in some people's eyes but the inconvenience caused can be a major problem to the farmers concerned. Tillage farmers can be forced to let a small plot of land lie unproductive due to the fact that it is covered by a pylon.
Also in rural areas not all people who are getting supplies are granted the EC subsidy which to all intents and purposes has been almost abolished. This subsidy of 80 per cent towards the cost of provision of a power supply in rural areas for farming purposes is a major loss. Not alone should it be available to farmers, it should also have been made available to any person building a house in a rural area because such people have the problems of providing services for themselves, unlike people in urban areas, and they are being charged all along the way for the provision of these services.
 The Minister also said it is hoped that Moneypoint will be in operation by 1 October 1985. I hope that this will not sound the death knell for the small power stations such as those using peat and Arigna power station in my own area which uses home produced coal. It is sad to think that we are now going to import coal at quite a high price and that we will leave some of our own natural resources unused for the provision of power. The Minister states that it will probably be more economic, but everything cannot be measured in economic terms. We were told some time ago that if a major breakdown were to occur at Arigna that station could become obsolete and would not be repaired. I appeal to the Minister to make sure that this does not come about because the closing of power stations such as Arigna would be a major economic blow to rural Ireland. While economics must be considered I hope that we will not do away with major employers and major sources of income in these areas which are so short of employment.
I will not oppose the Bill, but I agree with a number of the speakers in the Dáil who expressed a preference for a 14-day period rather than the seven mentioned in the Bill. The ESB do not do things overnight and should be in a position to give at least 14 days notice of their intentions.
Mr. Burke Mr. Burke
Mr. Burke: I welcome the Bill and recognise the need for it. If in the past the ESB have been restricted in carrying out the work, there is a need to give them the opportunity to carry out that work with the utmost speed. However, if the ESB are to have power to make their acquisitions speedily, it is necessary that there be a quid pro quo and that subscribers seeking supply of electricity will also have a speeded up reaction as a result of this Bill.
Very often I am baffled by the operations of the ESB. I am glad to get the opportunity to say that I believe much of the work of the ESB planning section lacks imagination. I am sure you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, are well acquainted with  the present direction and course of the Moneypoint power line, and a look at the amenities of the area over which it passes will reveal that it has destroyed very many fine landscapes. While I understand that developments and progress cannot be halted, there should be some recognition of this fact. I am not too sure how seriously the ESB take that aspect into account. I see many landscapes destroyed by the unsightly erection of power lines which by their nature are very conspicuous.
The planning that has gone into Moneypoint to date seems to have been an engineering blunder. This time last year the power lines were practically completed in the area which passes very close to my place in County Galway but during the last three months I have seen men going back to those pylons, removing the original foundations and resetting them at an enormous cost. Each pylon may cost something in the region of £50,000 to erect, I am open to correction on that, and with research and development, and the acquisition of land, each pylon could cost a far greater sum. The ESB are removing the foundations of every one of those pylons and replacing them with hundreds of tons of concrete for new foundations. I cannot understand why they have to go back at enormous expense — far greater than the initial cost — and reconstruct those power lines. If the ESB have an answer for that failure of the engineering section, I would like to hear it.
There is public concern about not just the power lines and the erection of those power lines over a particular landscape, but about the health hazard such power lines can be. Many people have publicly expressed serious concern about this but to date, other than a glib assurance from the public relations section of the ESB, I have not heard a reasoned account from the ESB which would allay the fears about the safety and health of those living permanently adjacent to very high tension power lines. In future developments — such as we have from Moneypoint to Dublin — there should be a far greater  consciousness of the landscape or terrain over which those power lines would pass.
Many people, including some of my constituents, have made very serious complaints against the ESB locally about the delay in knowing exactly what compensation they are entitled to. Trucks, tractors, huge machinery, have ploughed into landscapes at all times of the year, often at very unfavourable times and the ESB must be criticised for that. It would cost the ESB less in the long run if in future, they took all these circumstances into consideration.
Compensation for damage to land is one thing, but when people actually objected to the ESB coming on to their land the reply they got was that the matter would be settled in the courts. Some people have been waiting three years for the courts to decide. I know the ESB have no jurisdiction over the long delays that occur through the court system but I believe there would be far less hassle or need to go through the costly exercise of legal proceedings if the ESB were more forthcoming in dealing with the public than they have been to date. A great PR exercise has been lost through the actions of the ESB to date. I would like the Minister to let us know if there has been a failure in the original design of the pylon, or if there has been a failure with regard to part or all of the Moneypoint line which is in course of construction.
I want to mention the new connections that have been mentioned by the last speaker. In rural areas where the ESB have supplied power they did not provide maintenance, except where there was storm damage or something like that. They left a system which would hopefully, supply the required service, but when new connections are demanded the applicant has to foot the bill for any additional work carried out. When I say “additional” I mean that the new subscriber has to pay for the repairs and maintenance that are long overdue and will have to pay for the costing.
In rural Ireland one transformer can supply two or three houses and another applicant for domestic supply may not be  a great burden on that transformer but if a new engineering works applies for electricity and a new transformer is needed the subscriber has to pay for it. This may cost thousands of pounds which many new subscribers are not able to pay. Long term finance arrangements are available through the ESB, but they are equally costly. Many people do not like to get large two-monthly demands, especially when they are setting up a new home. This could cripple them financially at a time when it is difficult to get jobs in rural Ireland. The ESB should not take advantage of new subscribers by burdening them with what is really a maintenance job the ESB should have carried out many years before.
Under the western package there are substantial grants of 65 per cent for new subscribers, but the conditions laid down for that scheme are very rigid and selective. Many people who make applications under that scheme are turned down and the appeal system is nothing more than a rubber stamp. Having been refused the grant assistance towards the provision of supply, it is very seldom that the person makes a successful appeal because rarely, if ever, are the ESB's decisions changed to the satisfaction of the applicant. Perhaps this is an indication of the thoroughness of the first examination they give the application, but very often it has been proved to be otherwise. They are reluctant to change their minds. I ask the Minister to examine the question of new connections, particularly in the west, in places which are far removed from existing supply. They should be less rigid in their demands and not confine supply to areas which are FEOGA aided.
Many people wonder at the capacity we have for electricity generation. The Minister mentioned that delays in the connection of some generating stations would cost £1 million per week. At various times, particulary at election time, there are rumours that X, Y or Z stations, whether in peatbog land areas, the midlands or on the western seaboard in places like Screebe in Connemara or Arigna are to close. There is a great debate and somebody brings in a rescue  package. The ESB and the Government should come clean on this. If we are talking about planning, we must know exactly what is to happen. That is important for the many people who have, over the years, provided service in the smaller generating stations and for those who live in the areas and are part of the social as well as the economic structure there. There should be a firm indication given about the lifetime of those stations. They are not decisions that can be made at the snap of a finger. The people working there are entitled to due notice that the lifetime of the stations are coming to an end.
Often people who criticise the inefficiency of the peat-burning stations do so out of ignorance. We can down them if we want to by quoting figures and percentages but it is important to recognise the need they fulfilled over the years.
I recognise the need for this Bill whereby the ESB, with due consultation, have the power to make decisions, have forward planning and have the right to enter lands. The ESB need to carry out a far better PR job if they are to be successful. It would be much better than going through long court proceedings.
Mr. W. Ryan Mr. W. Ryan
Mr. W. Ryan: It is only right that after 50 years there should be some change made as far as the ESB are concerned. The ESB have too much power as regards the erection of pylons and poles on farmer's land compared to other bodies such as the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who had to erect lines along the road if possible and not enter farmland at all.
Farmers suffered a lot at the time of rural electrification. They were not as organised as they are today and had to put up with what happened. I saw poles placed 10 yards from a fence even though they could have been erected at the side of the fence thus avoiding obstruction to the farmer. From now on I expect there will be more co-operation between the ESB and the farming community.
It is sad to see our scenery being destroyed by pylons. There are not many  in my area but two years ago I met some people in Killaloe who were up in arms because pylons were being brought across the Shannon. They told me they had made several protests to the ESB but had not succeeded in getting the route changed. It meant cutting down woods and so on in that area. That is something the ESB could have avoided. It seems that when the ESB decide there is to be a line from Cork to Dublin it does not matter what stands in the way, it has to be destroyed. I have not been in Killaloe since then and do not know what happened but I hope something will be done by the ESB to preserve the beauty of that area.
The time has come for the ESB to consider putting heavy power lines underground. There are enough wires all over the country as it is. Gas cannot be brought by pylon or overhead wires but the ESB could learn a lot from the laying of the gas pipeline from Cork to Dublin. People said it would take two or three years to bring the gas to Dublin but it took two or three months. One would want to be there to see those people at work and the way they made agreements with the landowners and so on.
I was surprised to see that if this Bill was not passed it would cost the ESB £1 million per week to finish the Moneypoint line to Dublin. I thought that line was finished some time ago. It is two or three years since it was first mentioned. Senator Burke mentioned that they had to reinforce the foundations of those pylons. That means there was a mistake made by some officials or engineers in the ESB. Moneypoint will cost a lot more, and who will pay for the mistakes of others? It is the consumer who will have to pay. Shortly after the pylons were erected, a number of them were blown down by a storm. In every walk of life today, it is the taxpayer, the ratepayer and the consumer who have to pay the penalty for mistakes made.
I understand that in the west of Ireland it now costs about £2,000 for a new householder to get electricity installed. The EC grant of up to 80 per cent has almost gone and is going altogether. A young couple  who buy a site and build a house have to pay £2,000 for the installation of electricity. That is going a bit far. Electricity should be installed in every house without any cost as it was in the early days.
The Bill is necessary. In the old days farmers got little or no compensation for the amount of damage done to their farms by the ESB.
Mr. Howlin Mr. Howlin
Mr. Howlin: I understand and appreciate the rationale of this Bill and the need for it. There is general acceptance that the supply of electricity is necessary not only for the economic wellbeing of the country but also the social wellbeing in the 1980s. I should like to take this opportunity to make two general points. First, I want to talk for a moment about the general strategy of the ESB in their approach to the provision of electricity and their plans for future consumption.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Howlin, I allowed some Senators to drift a little bit. I will also give you some latitude but not the amount I gave to an earlier speaker.
Mr. Howlin Mr. Howlin
Mr. Howlin: I appreciate your position. The point I wanted to make was the need for power lines. This is relevant to the Bill. I became interested in energy when the Carnsore project was being mooted for my county in the latter part of the seventies. At that stage we had a projected expectation of growth in electricity consumption. It was expected that there would be a huge increase in demand for electricity throughout the eighties. That has not come to pass.
The consequences of that in terms of costings for electricity are evident in that we have some of the most expensive electricity in the developed world, in the industrial countries we are competing with directly for markets. Forecasting can never be an exact science but I hope that it will be possible to be a bit closer to the figure in the future so that our native fuel burning stations will not be in danger of being closed down or phased out, and indeed not only the native fuel burning stations but also some of the very efficient  oil burning stations like Great Island referred to by the Minister which is located in my constituency. It is important that we safeguard the jobs in existence there and the communities who are dependent on them, rather than rushing ahead and providing an electricity supply for which there is no demand and for which there is a bill to be met.
I appreciate, as I said, that forecasting cannot be an exact science. I also appreciate that the ESB have a responsibility to provide electricity and that the consequences of their decisions are very great for the nation. Should they under-estimate demand, the consequences of that would be far more serious than overestimation. I fully accept that. I hope the actual projections will be closer to the mark in future.
I want to talk about the environmental implications of the provision of electricity supply. I do this from two perspectives. First, there is the effect on the visual amenities of having huge pylons dotted across the country. Somebody described them in the other House as giants marching across the landscape. The technology must exist to supply electricity without ravaging some of the most beautiful and picturesque landscapes in Ireland. The technology must exist to provide it underground or by more aesthetic means than those currently employed.
The other environmental aspect I want to talk about is a more serious one, that is, the growing belief that people living in close proximity to the overhead pylons, or working continuously beneath them or in their shadow, are at risk from a health perspective. That is a great cause of concern and is a great worry to many people. Research in this area is limited. I hope the Minister can assure me and the people who will be affected by this legislation that their health will not be adversely affected by the proximity of overhead pylons which are required for the common good.
I want to re-echo the point made by other Senators about the prohibitive cost for young people of getting an electricity supply to their new homes. The message often goes out from the State through its  agencies to young people in particular: Stay put; do not try to do anything for yourself because we the State will provide it for you and, if you have the daring and the imagination to go out and build your own house and provide the essentials, we will tie a millstone of cost around your neck. I hope the Minister will receive that message sent out by many Senators in the course of the debate today and look at some mechanism whereby the cost factor to young people in particular of getting an electricity supply can be reduced. I accept the necessity for the Bill and I will support it.
Mr. Fitzsimons Mr. Fitzsimons
Mr. Fitzsimons: My contribution will be very brief. The effects of the Bill will impinge on an area about which I, like the other Members of the House, have a deep concern. I will not oppose the Bill. I agree that its primary purpose is to provide for landowners a statutory right to compensation in place of the ex gratia basis on which the ESB paid compensation heretofore. It is a matter of extreme urgency both from the point of view of cost and the provision of services.
The Electricity Supply Board have extensive powers under the 1927 and 1945 Acts. Those are necessary although, as some Members said, they go a bit far. In effect, the ESB can erect power lines wherever they want to. They can connect lines to buildings. In general there seems to be no end to what they can do. In the early fifties I was fortunate to get employment with the ESB on the rural electrification scheme. My experience would bear out what the Minister has said that, by and large, lines are erected by consent and under negotiated agreements. I do not know of any occasions when lines were otherwise erected. Nevertheless, many landowners are dissatisfied because while in effect they might be able to negotiate regarding the location of lines or poles, very seldom is there the choice of not having poles on their land. It is Hobson's choice in all cases and often the value of the land was lowered by the placing of these poles,  especially with regard to cultivation and ploughing in that area.
With regard to the environmental aspect, I agree totally with what has been said by previous speakers. In areas of scenic beauty such as Donegal, the west and Kerry, the environment is practically destroyed by these poles and networks of lines. They are also just as objectionable in other areas. The large pylons and large poles stand out as sore thumbs but rural electrification made this a widespread problem all over the country. People who are erecting buildings are restricted by planning permission, but the ESB do not seem to be restricted in any way. While there are proper criticisms of some of our buildings, these can be softened to some extent and enhanced by the planting of trees and shrubs, but nothing can be done about poles. These poles stand up as pillars of progress and plunder at the same time, unfortunately.
I would agree with the previous speaker that serious consideration should be given to having these power lines underground. Section 53 of the Act should be altered to that effect. Subsection (1) states:
The Board and also any authorised undertaker may subject to the provisions of this section, and of regulations made by the Board under this Act, place any electric line above or below ground across any land not being a street, road, railway, or tramway.
With regard to the environment and the visual amenities which have been mentioned, we are inclined to think of the environment as something apart from costs, but costs must include damage which will affect the people living there, which will affect our tourism and which will affect the attractiveness of an area. With all the other Members I would ask that power lines wherever possible, would be underground.
Finally, with regard to the seven days notice which is mentioned in this Bill, I do not see any reason to change from the 14 days, although I appreciate what the Minister has said. In section 4 of the 1953  Act 14 days notice is mentioned. I would urge it as reasonable that we keep to 14 days notice but I appreciate that the Bill is necessary and I will not oppose it.
Mr. Hourigan Mr. Hourigan
Mr. Hourigan: First of all, I welcome this Bill. It deserves all our support. There are a few points I would like to raise for the attention of the Minister.
One thing that is not specifically mentioned here or in the Minister's speech is the question of insurance. One assumes that this whole area is adequately catered for already in previous legislation, but it is of paramount importance because if there were any injury or loss of life to humans or animals absolute, full and correct compensation should be provided for. This is an extremely important aspect. The Bill essentially talks about compensation to landowners for pylons erected on their farms. It is very difficult to quantify precisely the effect of these pylons. It varies enormously from area to area and from grass farming areas to tillage areas. The pylons would not have the same consequential effects on the cultivation of pastureland as it would on tillage operations. For that reason I suggest that arbitration might be provided for agreement on compensation where people are not satisfied with the guidelines drawn up between the Irish Farmers' Association and the ESB. That is a very good basis, but perhaps there could be provision for some redress, or appeal through an arbitrator, or some way to get the matter sorted out.
On the question of compensation, it would be very hard to quantify this precisely because we are talking of travelling on various types of land, about travelling with very heavy machinery on land. On certain types of land this would do no harm but it would upset on a permanent basis the whole texture of other land, the whole draining quality of the land and the whole permeation of water through it — or, indeed, not through it — in the future. For that reason, it is a very variable thing and I do not think it would be easy to standardise on a set situation.
On the question of timing, the Minister  very clearly spoke about consultation between the landowner and the ESB. Allowing for that — and it is very desirable that there be maximum consultation with regard to when the project would be undertaken — I would share the view that seven days is a short time, too short from the point of view of giving notice. There is another matter connected with this which ought to be examined. With regard to the consultation, what exactly does this mean? Does it mean that a certain route is planned by the ESB and the landowner is told that that is the route? He has little choice in this, because if there is any deviation from set routes, it can in many cases reduce the amount of compensation paid.
Could the Minister give us an indication of the level and also precisely the manner of payment? Is it to be done through a person's accounts or will it be done on an annual basis? I think nobody could oppose this Bill. I wholeheartedly support it. It is a progressive Bill and essential to allow certain developments for the good of the nation. But, in that whole process, it is essential that the various elements I have mentioned, together with others mentioned by other Members, be taken into account. At the end of the day the person on whose land these structures are placed ought not be at any loss. Nor should they be placed in a position in which they would gain substantially therefrom. But one must take account of the fact that these structures are there, that apart from their nuisance value in the operation of machinery and the like there is the danger of young people climbing these pylons which can cause accidents. There is also a danger of injury to livestock from wires falling on them, which naturally is secondary to the dangers to human life.
Having posed those questions I recommend that the Bill be given full support.
Minister of State at the Department of Energy (Mr. E. Collins) Minister of State at the Department of Energy (Mr. E. Collins)
Minister of State at the Department of Energy (Mr. E. Collins): I am grateful to the Members who have contributed in a very constructive manner to this Bill. I  am also grateful for what will have been its speedy passage through this House.
I should like to deal with two points of major importance raised by a number of Senators. In relation to the cost of connections, the ESB pay 40 per cent of the capital cost of connections in rural areas with the applicant paying the remaining 60 per cent. Under the western package electrification scheme the State pays 40 per cent of the capital costs of installation, the EC pays 40 per cent and the applicant the balance of 20 per cent. On this special scheme, which is part of a larger scheme administered by the Department of Agriculture, my Department merely act as agents. The provisions of the scheme are clearly defined and apply to the bringing of electricity to farms rather than to dwellings in the western area. It is a specific and limited scheme. I would not like Senators to think it had a broader significance or application vis-a-vis electricity policy.
A number of Senators raised the question of the possibility of putting wires underground. I suppose it would be nice to see all pylons and poles disappear from our land with our scenery maintained in all its beauty. I gave an example of the costs of such a policy vis-a-vis Moneypoint. If the ESB were to place the entire length, 480 kilometres, of these lines underground the direct additional costs would amount to £1.5 million per kilometre. That cost alone would be prohibitive. I do not think any reasonable person could justify it. From an economic point of view it simply would not be feasible. In fact the current required to charge up a 400 kv underground cable is so high compared to that required by an overhead line that no active power could be transmitted from Moneypoint to Dublin, involving a major technical point. So the major factor in placing these major transmission lines underground is one of cost but there is the technical aspect also. The cost element alone would be so prohibitive as not to be entertained.
Senator Ellis and others mentioned having a 14 day notice period rather than a seven day period. Senator Fitzsimons  said that, from his experience, seven days was not adequate. The board make every effort to give sufficient early warning of wayleaves all along the routes they propose taking. I do not think they have ever had any difficulty in negotiating with people who were not satisfied with the seven days notice regulation.
Regarding the question of delays in implementing new connections, first, you must have your wayleaves cleared and, second, you must have a crew ready to undertake the work. By far the most important factor in delays is the question of getting wayleave clearance.
In fairness I think I should refer to points raised by a number of Senators regarding the bringing on stream of Moneypoint and the strategic planning of the growth rates of the ESB. Back in the seventies we all thought that the growth path for electricity consumption would be substantially higher in the eighties than it was then. Given the long lead-in time to the construction of generating stations one must realise that one cannot change policy overnight. I firmly believe that the policy decisions taken in relation to Moneypoint were correct at that time. The ESB strategic plan has been published. My Department will have due regard to balancing efficiency. Many Members will be aware that there have been serious criticisms of the high cost of electricity, especially to industrial users. We must make every possible effort to have an efficient and cheap supply of electricity. Having said that, my Department will carry out their responsibilities in regard to the strategic plan as published. We will bear in mind all the social and economic issues in relation to the existing stations.
Senator Burke referred to compensation for machinery coming in on lands and Senator Hourigan raised the question of compensation, methods of payment and the manner in which it would be reassessed. I should like to make it quite clear that this Bill is about the manner in which compensation is to be paid. The crux of this Bill, having regard to the fact that one subsection of a section has been found unconstitutional, is that people  who are compensated will be compensated by independent means. That means it will be under the provisions of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919. That covers the independence exercised in deciding the question of compensation. The amount of compensation will be decided under that process and will not be predetermined by the ESB or predetermined by the landowner. In view of the decision of the Supreme Court, we propose to have an independent means of arbitration in relation to the whole question of compensation.
If there are any complaints regarding follow-up service for new connections, I would be glad to hear of them from the Senator and will have them examined. The ESB have a very good service section and I was surprised to hear some of the criticisms in that regard.
By and large the Bill protects the citizen. It has shifted the balance quite clearly after a period of many years in the citizen's favour. I reject Senator Burke's allegation that there was a major engineering blunder in Moneypoint in having pylons moved. My understanding of the matter is that the pylons are examined and strengthened where necessary before they are erected: in other words, all masts and foundations are rigorously examined when completed and all structural faults are eliminated before power is transmitted. That may explain what Senator Burke said was an engineering failure: rather it was greater care being taken by the board to ensure safety. If Senator Burke wishes to pursue the matter further I will be happy to consider any submissions he makes.
A question was raised by Senator Burke and others regarding the health of people living permanently near high tension power lines, particularly at Moneypoint. The scheme is nearing completion. This question has been raised from time to time, not alone in Ireland but in other countries where power lines have been a common feature of the landscape for many years. The World Health Organisation has concluded, on the basis of scientific evidence available, that  power lines, even up to the level of the Moneypoint — 400 Kv lines — have no adverse effect on human health. This report is available and if any Member of the House wishes to have a copy of it he can ring my office and I will have a copy made available.
Senator Ryan mentioned the high cost of installation, particularly in the west. I have outlined how that matter is dealt with under the present regulations of the ESB. I fully realise that for a young couple getting married the cost of supplying a new electricity connection in isolated country areas is high. As I said at the beginning, the ESB pay 40 per cent of the cost of capital construction in installation, and I feel that on balance that is a fair subsidy on the part of the ESB.
Senator Howlin raised the question of planning. I have dealt with that. No one expected that the rate of increase in the consumption of electricity in the early eighties would be at or near zero. In the latter half of the seventies the rate of increase was 7 per cent, 8 per cent or even higher. The ESB have a statutory obligation to ensure that there is a sufficient capacity and a reserve capacity to meet all reasonable demands on the system. We should not disregard the fact that Moneypoint is a coal fired station. We have had two serious upheavals in energy over the past ten years which have caused the price of oil to rise by ten times in the decade. We do not know what is going to happen in the next ten years. For instance, we do not know if the war between Iran and Iraq is going to escalate and if it does what will be the effects. Neither would I like to prognosticate on the growth of the American economy or the growth within Europe or the British Isles. If we were to return to growth rates of the seventies, we would certainly see a rapid increase in the consumption of electricity.
We were right to take the coal alternative. I feel it is one which is safer and provides us with more security with regard to the supplying of energy to the country. It is an expensive exercise capital-wise. That has been criticised but in  the long term we are securing our electricity supply by broadening the base of options from the point of view of the primary source of energy, namely, moving from oil to coal. It is within the framework of the EC which has adopted a positive strategy to move away from oil because of the damage it has done to economies and because of the uncertainty with regard to its supply and cost in the years ahead.
I have dealt with the environmental aspect, a matter again raised by Senator Howlin and other speakers. The cost is prohibitive and we have to realise that. Senator Fitzsimons raised the question of scenic beauty. He would like to see all the distribution network, the cables, underground but we have to face up to the fact that it is simply not economic. I cannot change that. The cost of putting cables underground is so high that it would have to be disregarded.
Regarding the placing of electricity poles, the ESB in erecting poles and pylons on land do their utmost to place those poles close to fences and ditches where they will cause least inconvenience and obstruction. When the rural electrification scheme was at its height, this was not always possible. It is now the ESB's firm policy. The directive to all of their staff is that the way leave provisions, which include the erection of poles, must be operated in a fair and reasonable manner. Where objections are raised by landowners the ESB will always move poles or change the route of lines if this can be done without unduly affecting other landowners or without being an unduly expensive exercise. Compensation had been settled on an ex gratia basis but now as a result of a Supreme Court decision compensation has been put on a statutory basis.
Senator Hourigan raised the question of insurance. I am advised that the board have a very comprehensive policy. Where possible damage is fully covered under the insurance. Claims are dealt with either by direct negotiations or by a common law action. The question of notification of claims within seven or 14  days has never been operative and that the ESB have always been most anxious to negotiate and facilitate landowners.
I thank the Members who contributed and I recommend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.
Mr. E. Collins Mr. E. Collins
Mr. E. Collins: I am very grateful to Members for the speedy consideration of the Bill. If all Government Bills were dealt with in such a speedy manner, we would be a very happy Government.
Seanad Éireann 107 Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 1985: Second and Subsequent Stages.