SVU Newsletter for April


Key Point This Month:

Following on from our most recent meeting with National Grid, we ask: do their proposals really address the grid security issue? We argue that the answer is NO and show why the real solution is still to put the transmission lines underground.

SVU Newsletter for April 2011

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The big question still is....

Can we create an energy future that does not despoil the environment

with the very technology we are employing to save it?

This month we look at:-

the Secretary of State's position (slightly scary)

the European Wind Energy Association's position (moderately scary)

National Grid's position (very scary)

Hello and welcome to our latest newsletter covering developments in our campaign to defend our beautiful heritage landscape from pylon blighting.

Since our previous newsletter there have been a whole host of meetings and developments that affect our campaign to rid the landscape of the threat of yet more electricity pylons.

We'll take the last item on our list first.

National Grid

We start with a report on our meeting with National Grid in the company of representatives of all of our Amenity Group Coalition plus Suffolk County Council and chaired by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC). The meeting took the form that we have come to expect with National Grid using PowerPoint slide sequences to control the agenda. Their argument remains much the same in that they say that they need the Bramford to Twinstead reinforcement whether or not the new generators off the east coast are connected to Bramford. We did however drill into this need case and look at justwhatthey are trying to achieve. Interestingly, something rather scary came from the discussion.

Now this is not a horribly technical issue so do read on. In the Bramford- Twinstead Overhead Line proposals, National Grid are trying to conform to a statutory grid security (reliability) requirement which basically says that the grid has to continue to deliver electricity to everyone even if two circuits fail. National Grid and the statute they are required to conform to refer to this requirement as N-2. There are in fact two circuits carrying electricity on each line of pylons in our area, one on each side. So if a line of pylons go down, then that takes two circuits out - the maximum the grid is designed to withstand.

The most common reason for failure of pylon lines is environmental. In other words, is caused by the weather and as we all know from 1987, the weather can have savage consequences in this region. So National Grid are arguing for another line of pylons to address their statutory obligations, NOT THE REAL WORLD THREAT to grid security. Global warming brings with it increased likelihood of more such storms in the future. 

The Great Storm of 1987 - hardly likely to be a unique event given global warming

The current "most likely pylon corridor decision" from National Grid would put two lines of pylons or FOUR CIRCUITS in close proximity from Bramford to Twinstead. The only logical conclusion if we fail to prevent this is that another storm of the magnitude of the 1987 one in this areawould take out 4 circuits(N-4?) which is clearly beyond the grid's capacity to survive and would lead to widespread power cuts depriving the nation of around 1/5 of its electricity. So we argue that National Grid's proposals are pitched at the wrong target and could in fact lead to widespread power cuts.

As we say at the bottom of all newsletters, we are committed to being a positive force and in keeping with that tenet, we do have a proposition designed to address the real needs of the future grid. And it is the same proposition that we have put forward before. If the proposed, (and eventually all of the existing) power linesbetween Bramford and Twinsteadwere installed in a concrete lined tunnel, well below the surface and therefore out of harms way, the security issue would be fully addressed in an economic manner that would also have the enormous benefit of freeing our heritage landscape from the blight of pylons.

A full scale underground transmission trial?

Linked to the above proposition is an idea we have been developing with energy industry giant, Siemens. Underground electricity transmission has always been held to be very expensive when compared to power lines on pylons and yet our research shows that the additional cost for undergrounding is grossly exaggerated in National Grid's documents and public pronouncements. It is also clear from discussions that the Gas Insulated Line (GIL) technology that we advocate using has yet to be trialed over a long distance at the capacities required here though Siemens are certain that they can deliver this. We have mooted the idea of a collaborative trial implementation of GIL in tunnels between Bramford and Twinstead to both Siemens and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Siemens have recently written to us confirming an interest in principle in exploring this idea and DECC have told us of future grant funding that will come from both the EU and the British Government for such pilot projects.

At our meeting with National Grid we put this idea to them and they confirmed that they are willing to consider it. The most recent figures from Siemens for costs to meet National Grids supplied specifications are broadly in line with what we have published previously and so we are actively developing this proposal with companies from all relevant areas of industry with a view to making the Bramford to Twinstead reinforcement one that meets the real security needs of the grid and provides a model for future developments of environmentally preferable electricity transmission in valuable landscape.

Look behind you!: The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA)

This Europe wide energy industry dominated organisation wants to see a Europe wide renewable energy grid that deals with the intermittency of wind and other renewable energy generation, and importantly for them, brings a pan-European renewable energy market into being. The economic value of this development would be immense for all concerned. But sadly, this organisation sees people like us who want an energy system without all of the environmental detriment pylons bring as nimby's, seeing us as an obstacle to development. On their web site, they have rather cleverly blurred some maps of the enlarged grid they envisage for Europe and importantly for us, the UK. We include here their map for 2040 which shows grid enhancements(?) that will bring renewable energy from the sea and land areas to the west of us, across England, through East Anglia and on to export points to the European mainland.

Up until now, we in the East have looked to the east for the threat that goes with more energy needing to be connected to the existing grid via more pylons from the North Sea coast. It would seem we now have to look to the west as well. The EWEA includes many very powerful energy industry players and we have to remember that the Bramford to Twinstead project started out as part of an outline proposal for future grid development from the energy industry. So as they say in all the best pantomimes, "look behind you" is an important message for us to bear in mind! The EWEA web site is at

To be clear, we fully support the move to low carbon energy - we simply oppose theunnecessaryblighting of the landscape and the characterisation of people who seek to protect the environment as nimbys. This issue is far to big for there to be any place for such name calling. There is much more at stake than the view from our back yards EWEA!

Naturally we mentioned the EWEA outline proposals to National Grid at our meeting. Do they factor in such proposals to their forward thinking on the grid? NO. Rather like the grid security issue, they only consider fixed proposals and statutory obligations which is a worry. Such a lack of thinking outside their rather narrow box might well lead to poor strategic planning, compromised grid security, wasted resources and a spoiled landscape.

CPRE Annual Lecture given by the Secretary of State for Energy and Cliimate Change

The last thing we should mention this month is the CPRE Annual Lecture, this year given by the Secretary of State for Energy and Cliimate Change, Chris Huhne. The broad ranging moderately uncontroversial presentation on environmental impacts from the energy industry was received with an equally broad range of responses. One thing that is heartening is the emphasis on the idea that the changes needed to embrace the coming switch to low carbon generation will not be "forced on the public". "You will have a voice in the room" , he said. Well, rather like the National Grid Consultations, the import of that voice being heard will depend upon whether it is listened to and acted on or simply ignored. What worried us more was the suggestion that the environmental impact from developments toward low carbon energy was the price to be paid for "progress". I am sure this was the argument used to justify the last wave of pylon blighting in the 1960's. The problem however remains the same. They (the DECC) are dealing with an industry that creates and hopefully solves environmental problems but in so doing, they risk creating another. In this new century, this is simply not acceptable because it is not necessary. We are smarter than that. The technologies exist that can affordably avoid much of the environmental detriment that would flow from this "progress". For the full text of Chris Huhne's lecture go to:


Consultations continue to surround the pylons issue on all fronts and the conclusions of many of them are currently delayed. All sides say they are willing to listen and yet the pressure to connect the new renewable generators is immense. This could lead to listening without "taking on board" and also to fast and dirty solutions that blight our environment for generations. This is what we saw in the last century. It is therefore incumbent on all campaigners to work for sound policy, clear thinking, and the proper evaluation of the impact of what Mr Huhne referred to as "progress", on the environment together with full evaluation of public willingness to pay to avoid environmental blighting.

The call to press for clear strategic thinking impacts all levels of this issue, from the development of a co-ordinated strategy to connect the windfarms to the grid, to developing grid reinforcement strategies that address the real issues, not just fulfilling what can clearly be shown to be inadequate statutory obligations. The grid security issue that we outlined at the top of this newsletter shows only too well that despite our being members of the electrical engineering laity, we can and must work for the right technical solutionsthat are in everyone's best interest. We cannot simply leave it to National Grids engineers - their objectives are not the right ones.

Not surprisingly therefore, Stour Valley Underground, and indeed all of our colleagues in the Coalition of Amenity Groups will continue to work toward these objectives. In signing off for now we would just like to remind you that it remains true that the economic,secureand most environmentally acceptable way to reinforce the grid in this area is by installing the power lines (GIL), in a concrete lined tunnel from Bramford to Twinstead in the Stour Valley, underground.