Groton Pylon Alliance

January 2011 Update

An image of an unwanted future from the Groton Pylon Alliance Website

The GPA is a conservation group set up in September 2009 formally representing the interests of 19 villages in south Suffolk in relation to National Grid’s proposed infrastructure project for a new 400kV overhead power line from Bramford near Ipswich to Twinstead near Sudbury. The GPA includes the villages of Groton, Kersey, Boxford, Edwardstone, Aldham, Milden, Chelsworth, Whatfield, Semer, Lindsey, Little Waldingfield, Elmsett, Nedging-with-Naughton, Monks Eleigh, Great Waldingfield, Bildeston, Lavenham, Flowton and Brent Eleigh.

GPA January Update

Wednesday, 26 January 2011



This symposium, held on January 16th 2011, was organised by Suffolk County Council to draw together a wide range of people who are concerned about the future of Electricity Networks in Britain and the way that the current regulatory framework is operating to promote – or not - the best solutions for the UK.

There were about 80 people at the meeting in London, drawn from DECC, OFGEM, National Grid (NG), Local Councils (Suffolk and Essex included), CPRE, and many campaign groups including, of course, the Groton Pylon Alliance. Many of those attending were concerned with the South Suffolk pylons proposals, but there were also significant numbers of people from Somerset (where there are very similar concerns regarding new pylons lines between Hinckley Point and Bristol), and Anglesey and Cumbria where new facilities are planned.

South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo chaired the meeting, and Tessa Munt, MP for Wells, also took part.

Current Situation and Future Prospects

The morning session saw presentations on the current situation – both onshore and offshore – by NG, and a briefing by Scottish Power Renewables (SPR) from the ‘Generator’ viewpoint on the East Anglian Offshore Wind array that is due to start generating in 2015 and be in full operation by about 2023. The full set of slides from these three presentations is attached to this note with perhaps the most salient points being that:-

♣The current power transmission network was designed over the last 70 years to answer a need to transmit power from onshore power stations predominantly in the north of England to the south. The need over the next 30 to 50 years will be to transmit power from the shoreline where the nuclear power stations are, and offshore, where many of the largest wind farms will be which requires a different network. East Anglia will see a 6x increase in the amount of electricity ‘exported’ to the rest of the country – which mainly means transmitted across the region.

♣NG’s thinking about the development of the power transmission network for the next 50 years is focussed on the pylons technology that has been in use for over 50 years.

NG is, however, continuing to offer connections only to the current network and most of their development plans concern this onshore grid. It is clear that under the current regime NG would not be able to implement or impose any significant major developments of a new infrastructure – for instance underground or undersea.

♣Although both NG and the potential operators such as SPR would seem to agree that an ‘integrated solution’ would be best for the country, SPR believes that the ‘current regulatory and planning environment does not create a truly efficient or integrated network’, and that there are other regimes and regulatory approaches (for instance in Germany) that serve the long-term needs of customers and taxpayers better.

♣Since privatisation (in the Electricity Act of 1989), DECC and OFGEM do not have the power to instruct that various transmission networks be built and used. They can ensure only that incentives are in place that will tend to lead to coordinated offshore development by the private contractors (see SPR’s remarks above).

♣The statutory obligation on NG is to ensure primarily that the electricity transmission systems should be “efficient, coordinated and economic”. The requirement to “have regard to amenity” falls behind that primary objective. OFGEM’s principal duty is to protect consumers by promoting effective competition; it has an ”other duty” regarding sustainable development.

A joint presentation was also made by campaign groups from Suffolk, Essex and Somerset outlining their objections to the current process and plans, which include not just a flawed consultation process by NG, but focussed on what the campaign groups saw as the inadequacy of the Electricity Networks Strategy Group’s vision for 2020, their view that the National Policy Statements that guide the thinking of regulators and planners are ‘not fit for purpose’, and the sub-optimal way in which the regulatory regime works.

They also made the point that the transmission costs only account for between 3% (currently) and 7% of the total cost of electricity provision. The costs of improving the transmission systems are therefore, although large figures in themselves, relatively small compared with the overall bill paid by consumers

The afternoon sessions kicked off with sessions by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on the overview of Government policy, and OFGEM on its powers to implement DECC policy (slides attached). DECC described the impact of the current emphasis on EU renewables targets and their impact on the projected energy infrastructure of the UK. Some important points here are that:

♣Each project (there are, for instance, six projects on the East Anglian Wind Array) is to be considered on a case-by-case basis (note that NG can also only consider actual individual applications for connection to the network – with no regard to any applications it knows might be received at some time in the short or medium term).

♣There are currently many changes in regulation and process happening at the same time, including: an independent study of the costs of undergrounding; a consultation on offshore electricity transmission; the submission of revised National Policy Statement s (see previous remarks); a review by DECC of OFGEM's powers. OFGEM itself is involved in a number of studies regarding transmission price controls, including a ”new approach” to regulation (RIIO) which it is hoped will draw together some currently conflicting standards and approaches.

The last two presentations were more technical in nature. Siemens described the work now being done around the world on electricity transmission systems, and in particular the Gas Insulated Line (GIL) technology for undergrounding high voltage networks. Figures given suggest that this technology could be installed in the UK at a cost of about 10x that of overhead pylons (again see attached slides). The final presentation demonstrated techniques for valuing the environmental and social impact of transmission systems.

Following a question and answer session, the Chairman closed the session with further thanks to Suffolk County Council for their work in initiating and organising the event – the first of its kind.

Summary thoughts

It appeared to many attending the meeting that the current UK regime is one in which:-

♣The private companies who are investing massive amounts in generation projects have little interest and no incentive in investing in the transmission system.

♣NG, who have responsibility for the infrastructure, have no real power to implement a long-term strategic development of the network. They are required to offer connections to whichever part of the network the generator asks for, and are specifically excluded from taking the kind of long-term view that would allow it to plan for connections that it knows will occur but hasn’t yet been asked to make. In effect, it seems to remain focussed on what many see as an out-of-date network using 50 year old technology.

♣The regulatory system seems not to give sufficient effective weight to the long-term planning of the nation’s electricity network, or to its environmental and social impacts.

•DECC, since privatisation, has no direct powers to make long-term investments on behalf on the nation.

•OFGEM’s primary concern is for efficiency through effective competition, with only a secondary responsibility to sustainable development.

•the planning systems (via IPC or the newly constituted MIPU) must deal with applications on a case-by-case basis.

•the processes and standards through which influences are exercised are inconsistent and in flux.

♣The massive investments and increased costs implied by the switch to renewable forms of generation seem to have been accepted by both the Government and the public as appropriate investments in our future. However, any similar investments in transmission technology (which only amount to some 3% to 7% of the total costs of electricity borne by consumers) seem to be blocked by the way our regulatory system works.


Much of what was said at the meeting in London reflects the Alliance's own views, namely that (i) the approach to UK power generation, transmission and supply is too fragmented and a co-ordinated approach is needed, particularly given the numerous wind-farms and other power generation projects in the pipeline up and down the coastline of the UK, (ii) transmission is just one element of the supply chain and the cost of that transmission should not be viewed in isolation but in the context of an overall project, (iii) a "ring-main" around the UK should be the way forward, with power being brought onshore at the point of need - for example, utilising the Thames in the case of London and the surrounding area and (iv) new technology should be more effectively embraced. 

The Alliance was very pleased to have had the opportunity to attend the Symposium and contribute to the debate at a national level on the regulatory environment and future of electricity networks infrastructure. It is hoped that the enthusiasm generated at the meeting in London can be brought to bear on the decision to be made in relation to the National Grid Bramford to Twinstead project in south Suffolk.

The Alliance remains committed to supporting all those who wish to protect the south Suffolk landscape, ensure it is kept free of any further pylons and remove the blight of existing pylons wherever possible. The Alliance therefore welcomes and supports the initiatives of Suffolk County Council and others in seeking to achieve this and we intend to continue to provide technical and other assistance to the other campaign groups where requested.

Finally, the Alliance urges all our elected representatives to push for legislative and regulatory change as it is only through such change will our landscape and environment be properly secured and protected from the threat of further pylons and overhead power lines.

For more from GPA go to