Key points this month:-
•The Regional if not Nation wide threat to our landscape
•Local Government across the region starts to collaborate in countering the threat of more pylons
•At Government direction, the production of an independent report into underground and undersea cable costs gets underway
•Our coalition of amenity groups is called upon to contribute to the report
•We build contact with Siemens, makers of the most cost effective form of underground cables
•National Grid write to us saying that they will not wait until the independent report comes out before announcing a "preferred corridor"
•National Grid's email implies that they have already disregarded the public's call for a non pylon solution
•The Bramford - Twinstead pylon corridor announcement is put back again and is now expected late February
Hello and welcome to the last newsletter for 2010 from Stour Valley Underground.
SVU Newsletter for Nov & Dec 2010
Published Monday, 6 December 2010
I am sure that having read the first bullet point in the list above you will be expecting a piece of campaign group polemic but let me say now that what follows is based on publicly available documents that you can download for yourselves. We hope however that you will see that what we say is in keeping with our core values as laid out at the foot of this letter, paramount amongst which is that we are responsible.
When we embarked on this campaign to stop National Grid from blighting our precious landscape with yet more pylons we were reacting to a local planning application process and its attendant public consultation. In this respect we were in a similar position to people around the country, all dealing with discrete and separate plans for new electricity transmission infrastructure. Even the local councils across the country were not seeing a pattern emerging or looking at the wider picture, trying to gauge where all these pylon and sub station projects together would take us. We had already started to forge links with other groups which locally lead to our coalition. In the South West, the Somerset groups also linked under an umbrella organisation and we have strong links with them, exchanging information at least on a weekly basis.
The Regional, if not Nation Wide Threat to our Landscape
The Nation wide threat to our landscape was really brought home to all of us by the release of a document at the end of September on the National Grid website. Called theOffshore Development Information Statement (ODIS), it is an enormous piece of work that sets out ways in which the coming huge windfarms might be connected to the on-land grid. The windfarms will bring enormous benefits to our Nation both in green energy and economic terms. But we do not believe that the environmental benefits of renewable energy should be paid for by incurring massive environmental detriment to the landscape. As you know from recent newsletters, we have identified an affordable and economic underground cable technology (Gas Insulated Lines or GIL from Seimens) and believe that pylons across the landscape are no longer acceptable or indeed necessary.
So what does ODIS tell us? Firstly it tells us that the output from the North Sea windfarms will reach a total capacity of a full third of the entire Nation's needs. Secondly, that the power from all of the windfarms will be brought ashore right around the country. Thirdly, that this will lead to a whole raft of new pylon building projects in all regions of the UK if we do not work to stop it. By way of example, the following section of a map of East Anglia from ODIS shows transmission lines that will in NG's view have to be "reinforced", which in many cases could mean more pylons and more huge substations. The green shaded ovals identify the areas for reinforcement, the blocks out at sea the windfarms and the red and thick green lines, the undersea cables prospectively bringing the power to shore. In the centre of the map is an oval running east west which indicates a proposition that a new line of pylons would be needed to link the windfarm power coming in near Lowestoft right along the Waverney Valley, through a beautiful, unspoilt landscape that is also of enormous importance to the tourist economy of the area.
This however is not an isolated example, far from it. In our efforts to bring this regionally significant environmental threat from the energy industry to the attention of the County Councils of the East we have identified similar threats to the counties both north and south of this area. So we have written to Lincolnshire CC indicating likely developments in their County which include three newly proposed lines of pylons. We have made Kent County Council aware of the impact of proposed developments in their area by showing them that proposals exist for a new 400kV line through Kent and Surrey, to start in 2017. This is signalled in the small print of another National Grid document: the forward lookingNational Grid Seven Year Statement (SYS).The 95km line (prospectively of pylons) would run from a new 400kV substation at Rowdown (near Croydon) to another new 400kV substation at Lydd on the south-eastKentcoast, to link with a new cross-channel (undersea) inter-connector withBelgium.
But, you might think, what makes you think the ideas in ODIS will happen? Well to answer that let me take you back to the document that first mooted the idea of a new line of 46 metre tall pylons between Bramford and Twinstead. Called"A Vision for 2020", the report was produced by a collection of energy industry and government organisations and was called the Electricity Networks Strategy Group (ENSG). The Government rubber stamped the report ENSG produced turning it into a sort of blueprint for upgrades to the grid. The result is a number of National Grid projects that include the Bramford - Twinstead project here in the East and the Hinkley Point - Avonmouth one in the West Country. This is a worry because if ODIS were similarly to be adopted as a blueprint for future development of the grid, then under current National Policy Statements (NPS), numerous new lines of pylons across the landscape would result.
ODIS also shows us that much is still to be thought out with regard to connecting the windfarms. Maps within the document show power equivalent to the output of two Sizewell C's coming south to end in an arrowhead going... who knows where. But we do know the power is heading for London and we in East Anglia are between the power and the City and so it will have to be transmitted to London somehow. Does this mean yet more, as yet unplanned lines of pylons across East Anglia? We do not know. What we do know is that unless we ensure that Government Policy drives a move to put the grid underground and undersea, our entire region is under threat from even more pylon blighting of our landscape.
National Policy - why we are working to change it
National Policy Statements (NPS) are the documents that guide decisions by ministries and quango's like the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC). As we have reported before, we are contributing to the consultations on the NPS that impact the pylons issue. As part of the consultation on the NPS, the government has instructed National Grid to fund an independent report into the costs of alternatives to lines on pylons and this is being conducted by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) and they in turn have commissioned an independent electrical research and testing company, KEMA to conduct the research work. We have now been invited to make representation to this body at a meeting during December and so members of our Coalition Steering Group are preparing our submission now. We are particularly pleased to report that Siemens are also to contribute at this meeting , pleased because it is technological developments in electricity transmission from this company that we have great hopes for in terms of making underground transmission an economic reality and the way forward into a pylon free future for the UK landscape.
Building awareness of this issue throughout the East of England
As I mentioned earlier there has until now been a problem with Local Government dealing with a number of seemingly piecemeal, separate planning applications from the energy industry but with no overall plan being available to show them where this all might lead. I can now report that great strides are being made into rectifying this. In a recent meeting with Essex County Council, we were heartened by the strength of their commitment to collaborate with other councils in the region in ensuring that the energy industry and National Grid in particular should present the region with a vision of where renewable and low carbon electricity developments will take us and how it will impact our environment. This is not being done from dread of an unknown future but as a way to embrace the opportunities the new developments bring while at the same time ensuring that the developments take place in a publicly acceptable manner and do not blight the landscape for generations.
In order to support and encourage the councils of the East we have supplied them all, from Lincolnshire to Kent with both the argument and evidence that supports what we have said here. We have provided them with the maps from ODIS that show not specific projects but with the simple fact that there is an enormous amount of electricity infrastructure coming our way, that we must all be aware of the potential threat and that all of Local Government must work together to ensure that the developments are co-ordinated, well planned and environmentally acceptable.
And still National Grid seem determined to make a premature "corridor announcement"
Despite all of this, despite the fact that we have shown that the perceived urgency to reinforce the grid between Bramford and Twinstead is not real due to delays in the on-line dates for new generators like Sizewell C, despite the fact that the oh so important report on the true cost of underground cables will not be available for months, despite the fact that ODIS shows that there is not as yet a co-ordinated and comprehensive plan for the connection of the windfarms to the grid, National Grid have written to us to say that they will not wait for the IET/KEMA report on underground powerline costs before they announce their "preferred corridor for a new line of pylons". The wording of their email shows that they cannot even see that to do so is clearly to disregard the public's demands for a non pylon solution that needs no corridor and as you know, an underground connection needs no corridor. Interestingly, we have just heard from Suffolk County Council that the corridor announcement from NG is to be put back again, until late February. This suggests that they must have reread their own letter and seen just how illogical their stance on pressing ahead with the announcement prematurely is. Sadly, it does not mean that they are now going to wait for the IET/KEMA report.
So we have worked hard to make Local Government aware of the wider threat and to see the bigger picture. We have contributed to every relevant public consultation. We have identified publicly acceptable technologies that would allow National Grid to proceed at any pace they felt necessary to make the grid upgrades they deem needed. But do we really see any signs that National Grid are listening. Sadly I have to say NO. The engineering battleship that is National Grid does not change direction readily and continues to treat the consultations as a tick box exercise, going through the motions in the guise of consultation. A recent BBC4 TV series tried to pitch the National Grid as a national treasure and to show us all the lovely things it has made possible. It finished with a program that darkly warned of how woeful life would be if major power cuts were to occur in the 21st century. This has been described elsewhere as a piece of pro National Grid propaganda, trotting out NG's misinformation on the cost of underground cables. Power cuts would indeed be dreadful but are completely unnecessary. If National Grid were to adopt a policy of putting all future on-land grid connections underground using GIL in tunnels, the opposition to the developments would disappear and future energy grid security could be assured in a timely and economic manner.
Well we promised to keep you all informed of developments on the pylons issue and as the issue has grown, so has the newsletter. There are some substantial claims in this edition and for those who want to look further into the data that underlies our assertions, we publish it all on our web site including links to the source documents on National Grid's the Government's and other web sites. As ever, we are keen to hear from you. So if we can be of help to you in understanding this issue or simply want to know how to help work for a pylon free landscape, our email addresses are below and are constantly monitored.