SVU Newsletter Summer - Autumn

Stour Valley Underground enter our third year of campaigning with a standing room only public meeting. With the fulsome support of Local Government, Farmers and Landowners and the Communities who’s interests we represent, we go forward in the knowledge that the economic argument is now with us. National Grid want to make one of these lines of pylons much bigger. We know our landscape and economy cannot afford it.

Summer - Autumn 2011 Newsletter

Friday, 14 October 2011

Hello and welcome to our Summer - Autumn Newsletter.

This month we look at:-

•Stour Valley Underground's public meeting

•National Grid's 1984 style Doublespeek

•Why all the rush? How unnecessary haste to reinforce the grid will lead to damaging outcomes

•The IET underground transmission consultation - will it be independent?

•Local Government Policy on pylons

•The Consultation: Flawed from the outset and just getting worse

•Strategic Optioneering:

The solutions we want to see explored

The 132kv line: it's not actually part of a corridor 2 solution - an odd thought but it's true

Sub Stations: alternative strategies that we think should be considered

•National Grid are to trial Gas Insulated Lines - at last!

•We finish this month with a joke...The Pylon Design Competition

Before we start... a question:

Just how much is the natural beauty of our landscape worth?

Lets consider a simple day out in the countryside. According to Natural England, 20% of the 3 billion visits to the natural environment in 2009-10 were made for the purpose of "enjoying the scenery". Average spend per visit was around £7. That's over £4 billion of economic activity generated annually just by folk who go out and enjoy the scenery! Clearly, enjoyment of scenery is affected by overhead lines and this could have consequential impacts for the local tourism industry and a cumulative impact on the economy.

And some good news...

Signs of sanity have emerged in the rejection of proposals for an ugly substation in the Norfolk countryside. Warwick Energy, developers of the Dudgeon wind farm had put forward plans for an unsightly and inappropriate sub station near the rural Norfolk village of Little Dunham. Government Ministers Eric Pickles and Chris Huhne rejected the plans on appeal for environmental and local economic reasons, all of which seem highly relevant to any similar proposal from National Grid for a substation in the north Essex villages. It is true that the proposal from National Grid in our area will be considered by the IPC or its successor (currently known as NID) and not the local planning authorities but by the time the NG planning application goes forward, it will be considered by the successor to the IPC and that body will be part of the Planning Inspectorate that deals with all things planning. So this decision on Little Dunham should provide a precedent and influence any decision on a substation proposal from National Grid. Our planning experts are going through thedecisionwith a fine toothed comb to ensure that we can site all relevant planning policy in defence of our landscape.

Stour Valley Underground's Second Anniversary Public Meeting

Our most recent meeting in the picturesque setting of Wickham St Paul in Essex was a standing room only affair that heard impassioned speeches from leading figures from two county and a district council, plus presentations from SVU covering information missing from National Grid's recent consultation events. Key aspects covered included environmentally preferable transmission technologies and the affordability of the strategies we advocate. This was followed by a lively question and answer session which demonstrated just how strongly local residents reject the idea of further blighting the landscape with pylons or a substation. Key amongst the demands for action heard at the meeting were calls to write to our MP's and Government , a matter which SVU has since made easier with its online "Letter Writing Kit". The meeting was hailed a success by all and was positively reported in the local press. Flowing from this coverage, the pylons issue has now reached the front page of the region's daily paper, theEast Anglian Daily Times. The SVU Steering Group would like to thank all who helped make this event such a success including our fellow organisers, helpers and all those who attended.

National Grid's Pylons Consultation:1984 style Doublespeak

National Grid have stated on numerous occasions that no transmission method is ruled out

for the Bramford to Twinstead Connection Project. And yet at the recent Community Forum held in Twinstead Village Hall, NG Project Leader Martin Davies pointedly told the assembled community representatives that National Grid's Major Project manager, David Mercer, in announcing the corridor decision some moths back, had categorically ruled out undergrounding the whole route. Strangely, this statement was missing from the written press releases.

So they have ruled out a transmission method - the one that delivers the best economic and environmental outcome, the one that NG's own figures show to beeasily affordable. More hypocritical still, NG announced that the corridor decision they had made was in light of the majority of responses from consultees in Stage 1 showing a preference for corridor 2.

But even more consultees called for the connection to be put underground. So how can NG claim that their decision in any real sense reflects the stated preferences of the people who responded to stage 1 of the consultation. The only conclusion has to be that this consultation process is a pointless PR exercise as was pointed out to NG at the Twinstead Community Forum by a councillor who professed himself to be a relative newcomer to this issue.

What's all the rush?

The law is an ass, as someone once said. Current legislation forces National Grid to respond to a connection request from any potential generator developer and to do so with respect to the date when the developers say the new generation will come on-line. Yet there seems to be no revision process to look at the inevitable slippage in these dates and slipping they most definitely are.

Having spoken to the developers of the East Anglia 1 windfarm that is now at the centre of National Grid's need case for the Bramford to Twinstead grid reinforcement, it is clear that EA1 will not be completed anytime near the dates set out in NG's needs case document. Indeed the developers, Scottish Power Renewables and Vattenfall say that the segments of this windfarm beyond the initial 1.2gw (just 1/6th of a projected 7.2gw) are "uncertain". This is for a very good reason. Ifshale gas is indeed extracted in Lancashire, as is now a possibility, there will be a plentiful and cheaper energy source than wind energy and this must impact windfarm investment.

Also, as we have reported before, Sizewell's new reactors will not come on-line until the middle or latter half of the next decade and the prospective gas powered stations are also uncertain. Put all of this together and it is very clear that there is no rush to install any connection upgrade in this area. National Grid are after all adding 50% to the capacity of the existing pylons by installing thicker lines on them. The time made available by the delays in building new generation is the time that is needed to allow the current trials of environmentally preferable transmission technologies to be completed and for new technologies to be used.

SVU have already called for you towrite to your MPmaking various points but the issue of blundering on with a project based on wholly unrealistic dates because of some badly written law needs addressing - by our lawmakers, by our MP's. Unless the statutory obligation on National Grid is revised to cause a regular (annual) revision of the need case in light of generator completion date slippage, we will end up with an enormously costly and unnecessary blighting of our landscape due to pointless rushing.

But the rush goes on...

National Grid say that they want to have decided on what part of the route will be undergrounded by the New Year. This means at we will have only weeks to digest the revived investigation into underground transmission costs that IET are conducting for the IPC at the behest of the Energy Ministry.

So how long will this part of the "consultation" take?

On one hand we are told that this part of the consultation will take 12 - 18 months, or according to the "independent chairman" as long as it takes. But with such pivotal aspects of the choice of transmission method being either bludgeoned into place by David Mercer or rushed into place by the Project Team, there seems to be little consultation on key issues and all NG want to discuss is where to put pylons.

Independent Research into Underground Transmission Costs?

How much credence we can give to the output from this investigation is highly debatable because the consultants gathering the data, Parsons Brinkerhoff are in fact a subsidiary of major contractor to National Grid, Balfour Beatty. So when the report emerges at the end of the year we must scan it carefully to ensure that there is no engineering of the data to suit National Grid's purposes. That said, we are heartened by a letter from the DECC today that assures us that the IET will ensure independence and that the source data will be published so that we can corroborate or otherwise the report's conclusions.

Local Council Policy on the Pylons Issue

National Grid's Bramford to Twinstead Connection Project involves the eastern counties of Essex and Suffolk and their respective councils. Within Suffolk we have seen a completely innovative move from the County Council to pro-actively alert communities that will in future come under the threat of a string of pylons through their valuable landscape (more on their value later). Add to this the effort and resources that went into organising The National Symposium on Future Energy Networks and we see SCC's policy at work, defending the landscape from more pylons.

At the recent SVU Public Meeting it was heartening to receive fulsome support for our "underground all the way" stance from SCC's leading Councillor on the issue, Guy McGreggor. There had been worries within the county that undergrounding the proposed transmission system would lead to a reopening of the route corridor debate, but by now we hope we have demonstrated that the only sensible route would be under National Grid's preferred route corridor. So SCC have clearly demonstrated that their policy is a "no more pylons" one

Essex County Council (ECC) have been solidly behind our stance from the outset as has Braintree District Council where a recent motion saw a reiteration of their call for an underground solution. Indeed ECC could not be clearer on the issue, official policy stating:-

"Essex County Council is of the view that the only acceptable transmission line proposal connecting to Twinstead across the Stour Valley in Essex is by undergrounding."

The Consultation: Flawed from the outset and just getting worse.

Stour Valley Underground believe that any community that will potentially effected by National Grid's proposals should be included in the current round of Community Forums that NG are running as part of Stage 2. National Grid don't seem to agree. The Community Forum catchment area maps on their website clearly show the potential sites for a sub station to be outside the area covered by the community forums. NG say people from these communities are welcome, but how would they know? The documentation and mail outs all seem to disenfranchise them.

NG's Community Forum Catchment Area Map copied from their website today. Note that the grey circles ( left) identifying potential substation sites are outside the blue shaded catchment areas for the forums.

And was there not supposed to be an agreed Statement of Community Consultation, agreed with Local Authorities, to show us how this part of the consultation would be conducted? As far as we can tell, this is still in draft form (as at 11:10:11) . So the consultation is going ahead with no agreed consultation strategy. Indeed, when questioned at a Community Forum, National Grid seemed to feel that it is O.K. to make it up as they go along. It all sounds a little like driving off to go to Birmingham without having worked out a route. This all sounds like a recipe to get lost!

Strategic Optioneering

It is blindingly obvious by now that National Grid's exploration of the options available to accomplish a grid reinforcement between Bramford and Twinstead were gestural and inadequate. The options covered included the impossible and the rediculous, but never the ones that the public would obviously call for. The latest Revisions to Strategic Optioneering from National Grid are an improvement but still fail to properly explore the options that best serve both our communities and indeed our Nation.

Perhaps we should make it clearer just what we are calling for:

Underground all the way

Here the green line gives a rough idea of the route

This is our least change in blighting option that connects Bramford to the south going line to Braintree using underground transmission in a tunnel. The 132kv line stays so there's no need for an ugly sub station. There are various ways to accomplish the installation of underground power lines using concrete lined tunnels that are set at a depth to enable the landscape to be restored and for agriculture to proceed as before. Benefits include the ability to service the system from within the tunnel, to provide an upgrade capability without planning issues, high levels of reliability and the possibility of installing other services in the same tunnel such as lower voltage cables and data cables. The cost would be just over 3 times as much as that for pylons but would easily be covered by the benefits to the environment and reduced impact on the valuable tourism economy which in Suffolk and Essex together is worth around £4 billion per year.

But, there might be a better way, though it might not suit all...

Underground all the way: Lowest Environmental Detriment Scheme


A Good Reason to Accept a Substation

This is the option that delivers the greatest reduction in environmental detriment from pylons and delivers this benefit at little extra cost over the first scheme. With this strategy the grid reinforcement is accomplished as above but with addition of the 132kv line coming down between Bramford and Rushley Green near Castle Heddingham in Essex. We have marked Rushley Green with a red dot, lower left of the above map. This is the point where the 132kv line tees off and heads north to power the Clare area. By placing a small transformer station, with sufficient capacity to cover the low demand on this line at this point, something of the order of 30 miles of pylons can be removed. This yields the greatest reduction in blighting by pylons short of undergrounding everything but it does mean a small sub station in Essex to which some might object. Overall, it does however seem a price worth paying for this huge environmental benefit.

The 132kv line: it's not actually part of a corridor 2 solution

Yes you read that correctly. National Grid have pulled a fast one and made most of us believe that the removal of the 132kv line is part of their corridor 2 offer wherein they replace it with taller 400kv pylons. But this is misleading because you could take down this line and replace it at huge environmental benefit with a small transformer station no matter which corridor had been chosen and no matter which transmission technology is chosen for the 400kv line. So you could argue that the chosen corridor will see a doubling of the number of pylons that are actually necessary and not simply replacement of short pylons with taller ones!

Sub Stations

Here is another thing that was never considered by National Grid's "optioneers". If NG remove the 132kv line of pylons they could put one great big ugly substation containing two huge 165 ton transformers somewhere west of the Twinstead Tee. As a result, they would have to disturb the transport system and shore up the major bridges of the area so that they can actually ship the transformers in. This limits the potential sites for the sub station to ones with existing main road access.

But there is another way. The two sub station option puts a smaller transformer station on the end of the 132kv spur, just to power the Clare area. Another sub station would then be built further west if it were needed to re-energise the 132kv line for some other area, a location where the road system would handle the huge weight of the transformers better. And this would enable even more 132kv pylons to be removed, all the way to the second substation!

National Grid are to trial GIL

Gas Insulated Lines (GIL) are in our belief, the single most important developing transmission technology. And yet they have been in faultless service for over 30 years. National Grid have some running right now in Elstree, north London. And yet they are still not convinced that they are the technology that will deliver the right blend of economics and robustness for the Bramford to Twinstead link. So we are very pleased to hear that NG are trialling GIL at transmission level between two sub stations and that the results will allow for their adoption by the end of the decade. This is most timely because that is about the point at which an increase in transmission capacity will in reality be needed in this area. Delays and uncertainties surround the proposed new generators that underlie National Grids need case. So if we can work towards a calmer, more realistic assessment of the need for new transmission capacity and base the dates to have it up and running on that, then GIL could come to the rescue of our landscape, agriculture and tourist economy and provide us with the right solution for everyone.

We'll finish this month with a joke...

The Pylon Design Competition

Chris Huhne has made us smile with his rather pointless and diversionary Pylon Design Competition. The V&A is now littered with models of these intriguing ways to make overhead lines much more expensive. All of the six finalists seem to have designed pylons that are higher maintenance, more difficult to service and much slower and more costly to build. National Grid say that costed for its whole life, underground transmission is 3.25 times the cost of overhead lines on conventional pylons. But now we know from the controversial Beauly - Denny overhead line project in Scotland, that overhead lines cost twice what the developers expected. Chris Huhne has precipitated designs for new pylons at more than twice the cost of conventional ones. Doesn't that mean that they have just come up with designs that would result in overhead lines that cost more than underground transmission? And they still detract from the natural beauty of our valuable landscape.

A Note of Thanks

Stour Valley Underground collects together information and ideas from many of its associates and it would be misleading to give the impression that the ideas contained within our newsletters are all our own. This has been a busy summer of developing our campaign and organising the public meeting and dealing with the press coverage. All aspects of this work are informed and guided by our many associates. With respect to this newsletter and the recent public meeting we would particularly like to thank Adam Sedgwick, Steve Boulter and John Foster for their ideas, Councillors David Finch, Tony Shelton and Guy McGregor for their active support and David Tooth for so ably chairing the public meeting.