If it could have been stored, the frustration vented by Piltown District Councillors might well have proven sufficient to generate power for the street lights which remain ‘off grid’ in Piltown, Kilmacow and Mullinavat.
But as things stand, the lights which Kilkenny County Council erected over a year ago remain without electricity, and political annoyance was made plain at last Wednesday’s District meeting in Ferrybank.
The debate was catalysed by Ferrybank Area Engineer Ian Gardner, who told Councillors: “This has been held up because there is a decision being made at a higher level whether we should use the normal lights which are called SON (a sodium lamp) but they are looking at switching over to LED lights (throughout Kilkenny) which are more expensive, so there’s a decision to be made on that and that’s holding up the contracts at the moment.”
Mr Gardner was speaking ahead of a meeting of Kilkenny County Council’s Area Engineers, which was held on Friday last.
“There are still some works outstanding from last year which are fully paid for and this is all to do with the connection of lights at Piltown, Kilmacow – opposite the Sports Complex – and on the main road in Mullinavat.
“So the lights and everything are up; what’s required now is for the ESB to energise the lights which they’ve been paid for, and we’re told they’re in the process of doing, and when they do that, they’ll contact the contractor…I’m in touch with Aertricity about once a week at the moment.”
District Chairman Pat Dunphy (FG) described the situation as “an absolute disgrace.” He added: “The lights are in place, everything is right apart from the connection and we’re approaching the winter now again – if they’re not able to do it, then let them say it. Any project that takes that length,” he sighed, “sure you’d just have to say they’re not able to do it and let’s move on.
“There’s public money after being paid to the ESB, Aertricity, maybe to both of them – and we’re facing into a winter where people could be walking on footpaths with no lighting on dark nights, when providing lighting is part of the whole objective of what we as a Council are supposed to do. It’s totally unacceptable.”
Mr Gardner said told the meeting that he wasn’t too sure who to blame in this instance – “it’s one or either or both”.
He also referred to one, solitary, unconnected light erected in South Kilkenny last year “and I’d say I made no less than 100 phone calls between ringing the ESB and Aertricity – and they kept blaming each other”.
Mr Gardner said the stasis has led the County Council to establish a central contracting system for such energy providers, which ought to lead to greater competition for energy provision contractors throughout Kilkenny.
“It’s a joke at the moment,” said Cllr Eamon Aylward (FF). “Those lights have been up for 12 months and to think they’re still not connected? It is inexcusable, and I’d appeal to the media to highlight the fact that the Council had done the job required of them in this instance just over a year ago.”
Cllr Fidelis Doherty (FG) who believes that “greater competition surely ought to improve things,” said this was an example of “crass incompetence…that we still don’t know when they’re going to do a job that they’ve already been paid for is beyond belief”.
Mr Gardner noted that the ESB “has to be paid in advance before they make a connection, that goes without saying, but Aertricity, we wouldn’t normally pay them in advance but because (the necessary funding) came so late last year, it was either ‘use or lose it’ and that was the only reason we paid them in advance – but we didn’t want to lose the funding either”.
Cllr Tomás Breathnach (Lab) told the meeting “that the first imperative is that the lights are energised…the irony being, as I see it, is that when local people are looking for lights, the first people they look to are on the Council.
“We delivered, a year ago, on our part, and it behoves those who can actually provide the energy required to come on board and work with us in a partnership approach.”
Cllr Melissa O’Neill (SF) also branded the situation as a “disgrace” and thanked Ian Gardner for his diligence in pursuing the providers for so lengthy a period on this issue. “The people out there know that their money had been spent when it comes to this (lighting) and it’s no reflection of the efficiency of this Council in terms of getting this particular work done.”
Cllr Ger Frisby (FF) echoed the sentiments of his Council colleagues and called for this delay to be discussed at full County Council level “since it appears we don’t seem to get too far in addressing matters like this purely at Municipal level…sure we’re basically being held to ransom as things stand”.
* At the head of the meeting, Chairperson Pat Dunphy and his colleagues welcomed back Cllr Melissa O’Neill following her recent hospitalisation.