Sunday 15 December 2019

ESB under fire for lack of capacity in county

ESB has come under fire for lack of capacity
ESB has come under fire for lack of capacity

David Looby

Wexford factories and home owners have been putting up with an appalling electricity supply service, ESB officials were told in no uncertain terms at Monday's county council meeting.

Two ESB Networks Ireland officials addressed councillors about the investment the company has committed to making within the county over the coming years. Enniscorthy, for instance, is due to have in the region of €1.1m spent on its network. The meeting heard that a planner has been assigned to County Wexford as part of the company's 2021-2025 strategy, while there are plans to use existing infrastructure for fibre connectivity. 'We are planning on using the ESB network to hang fibre optic cables to get fibre into the houses.'

ESB Area Manager Dan Mernagh said storms Ophelia and Emma were unprecedented, as was Storm Darwin.

'The south and east were the worst hit. We had never seen anything like it. It was the most easterly hurricane on record and with the snow, which made moving our people around very challenging.'

Mr Mernagh said the ESB and Wexford County Council officials were in contact regularly about clearing the worst affected roads. 'We were in hourly contact with Irish Water also. Over 150 staff were mobilised in County Wexford, with repair crews in helicopters.' He said when the snow reached the Wexford coastline it became very 'gluey' and affected transmitters. All of the ESB staff who arrived into the county stayed in local B&Bs and hotels, benefiting the economy. Cllr Jim Moore thanked Mr Mernagh and the ESB crews for their work during the storms. He said the south east of the county has a very low capacity of electricity from the Ashfield Cross sub station. Cllr Moore asked if any upgrade works are planned for the station. 'There is a lack of confidence in supply in the south east of the county. We are continuing to use line boosters instead of investing in our supply system.'

He asked if excessive capacity in other parts of the county can be shared with the south east of the county, but was told that the capacity is not a moveable feast. 'The problem is of such a nature that 60 per cent of one company which supplies electricity in emergencies has been generated by power outages in the south east of the county. Even last Saturday morning three local processing plants lost power. All of the companies are running an ongoing record of power outages, You talk about 61 per cent approval ratings; it wouldn't be anywhere near that in the south east of the county.'

Cllr Malcolm Byrne said the country is too reliant on fossil fuels. He asked if 'horrible, ugly' steel ESB poles in estates can be replaced with something more aesthetically pleasing.

Cllr Byrne asked if a local broadband provider approaches the ESB with a plan to use their infrastructure will they be able to link in with the state company and was told the ESB is receptive to new companies, while being told that the alternative to steel poles are even uglier steel boxes.

'Also, it's a lot more expensive to go with wooden poles.'

Councillors heard there was money spent on Killinick sub station in 2010. 'If we are aware of an issue we work on them. We have done a huge amount of work in Kilmore because it's a seaside location with very salty air which comes in about 20km closer than in other areas.'

He said ESB crews walked the lines and checked the transformers in Kilmore, where salt damage is particularly bad. 'We have targeted the southern end of the county in our continuity improvement plan.'

Mr Mernagh said access to transformers was particularly difficult during the snow and the storm, adding that farmers caused damage to some poles in the rush to catch up on farm work.

Cllr Moore called for a special meeting to be organised to solve the problem of poor electricity supply in the south east of the county. He asked how much renewable needed to connect with Great Island with Pembrokeshire in the Inter-connector. Cllr Michael Sheehan said he was concerned about changes mooted for the electricity supply in New Ross, asking if new pylons will be erected in the town. Expressing disappointment that SIRO, the broadband network, is not coming to New Ross or Enniscorthy, Cllr Sheehan said the parts of the county that are thriving are getting the infrastructure while the towns that are struggling are left behind and 'last on the list'.

He also asked for lights to be erected at Butlersland in New Ross on the N25 at Knockmullen.

Cllr Sheehan was told that the ESB will always try to use the corridors that are available.

'The SIRO plan for New Ross is on plan for early next year. They are concentrating on coming all the way down the east coast, starting in Bray and coming down to Wexford and meeting in the middle. It's a resourcing issue as the network has to be centralised and checked.'

Cllr Sheehan said: 'They are bypassing New Ross and going into Ferrybank. The reason why is that some of the figures they are using are outdated so they are saying New Ross is smaller that it is.'

Cllr Keith Doyle said there is a major retail plan for the Templeshannon area of Enniscorthy, asking if there will be enough capacity. 'We are looking at bringing in a major retailer in the next 18 months.'

Cllr Pip Breen said a major electricity line is planned to run between Normandy and the south east coast. 'It's proposed by Eirgrid. There are three major nuclear plants in Normandy and they need to export electricity.'

Cllr Ger Carthy said: 'If you sneeze on an ESB line in Tomhaggard or Tacumshane the power will go out. We need to improve the infrastructure down there.'

Cllr Robbie Ireton asked why there is a quota on how much electricity a wind turbine can produce.

CEO Tom Enright said: 'We have an ambitious economic development program that will require capacity for electricity, particularly the advance factory in New Ross which we are starting to build very shortly.'

He thanked Mr Mernagh and his crews for the fantastic work they did during the storms, saying it was very much appreciated. 'The co-operation that exists between the outdoor crews on the ground and our staff was fantastic as we worked together during the storm to get people's power back. A lot of people were without power and the ESB worked very, very hard during very, very difficult conditions. The helicopters flew when other helicopters wouldn't fly. You sent staff out in very hazardous conditions to ensure we got power back and we appreciate that.'

Wexford People

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