REVOLT opposing unnecessary, excessive and intrusive powerline development

opposing unnecessary, excessive
and intrusive powerline development

REVOLT Newsletter 339

Revolt news 16/09/2011 Print (pdf) Version

1. Revolt news335.9 reported the De Kun Li et al study "shows increased incidence of childhood asthma associated with maternal exposure to power-frequency magnetic fields during pregnancy". The establishment body Sense About Science (SAS) has issued a statement moderating the Daily Mail reports of this study. SAS refers also to an NHS statement in the same vein. These SAS statements seem reasonable in themselves, recognizing strengths and weaknesses in the study and pointing out that it alone is not robust evidence of cause (which would need more research). On the other hand there is a lack of balanced scientific context to the subject, which gives a prejudicial effect to the selection of this study for 'criticism' in isolation. It would be interesting to know how many SAS statements address studies interpreted as of public health concern, and how many as of assuring safety (like claims of proof of safety of pylons or phones), so as to examine possible selection bias in SAS.

2. David Holland from SVU alerts us to a full-page Mail on Sunday article 4-9-11 by Sarah Oliver which reports: 'What,' I asked, 'is the legal minimum distance you can put a pylon from my house?' 'There isn't one,' said the lady from National Grid. 'We can build right on top of you if we want'. This is clearly false, since the agreement of the home owner and occupier would be needed. Compulsory wayleaves won't be granted for a new line over a dwelling. The article concludes: So why, as we embrace a low-carbon future, can't we make a similar leap of faith today, and put our electricity underground?

3. Correspondence with Northern Ireland Electricity passed on by objectors' group SEAT suggests concerns about tree cutting and felling, reflecting those with National Grid and its contractors near Halifax in England (news338). It seems landowners must be vigilant and rigorous in demanding written reasons and specific details of any proposed tree cutting in advance of agreeing to it, rather than giving contractors carte blanche to lop and fell as they please. The NIE case seems compounded by problems with internal communications.

4. National Grid has published its response to its consultation on undergrounding. This has gone ahead in the absence of the IET/KEMA review of the costs and impacts of undergrounding. Therefore on the one hand its value is diminished, but on the other hand delay is avoided. NG's response and its new Approach to the Design and Routeing of New Electricity Transmission Lines are at

5. The good news is that NG says its new Approach has some helpful-looking changes. NG says "we consider all technically possible connections, including overhead, underground and under-sea technologies for any new electricity lines. We will not start from a default position in favour of any single technology." Also there is a declared change of emphasis: "we will place greater emphasis on mitigating the visual impact". These are important changes in principle though it remains to see how they work out in practice.

6. The bad news is that the Approach seems to be piecemeal, lacking a better co-ordinated approach with national and European HVDC grids. Objectors to overhead lines might be forgiven fearing an attempt at divide-and-rule fragmentation of projects and arguments, rather than a genuine and transparent assessment at a higher level. The failure to address higher-level strategy in the public interest, and instead leaving it to commercial interests, is more a failing of government.

7. On balance, credit to NG for a step forward, albeit a small one. There is also a very nice cover picture (Langdale Pikes?) on the Approach document. Proof of the pudding is yet to come – and it's hard to be optimistic at this stage.

8. NG's FAQs mention that Parsons Brinckerhoff has been appointed to undertake an independent study into the comparative costs of new high voltage overhead and underground powerlines, and this will inform future application of the new Approach. No mention was made of the IET/KEMA review. The concerned public will again be suspicious! Something strange and dark (not transparent) seems to be going on behind the published façade.

9. Further searching reveals an IET announcement of the new review of comparative costs of overhead and underground lines. People who made submissions to the KEMA review have not been informed. An IET press release (dated 3 June on the IET website) says that "KEMA's work on the study has concluded". A new press release dated 11 Sep (the "9/11") announces the new review by Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) working with CCI, and in a footnote refers to the "stalled" IET/KEMA review. Strange and dark goings-on indeed, without the courtesy of informing correspondents!

10. Research on "magnetic cows", or the magnetic alignment of cows and their disturbance near powerlines, based on google satellite images, caused quite a stir in the media as well as the scientific community (news270.4-5). The research was published in the highly reputed PNAS in papers by Burda et al (2009) and Begall et al (2008) from the same German/Czech group. It seems very thorough, and well covers the many angles of doubt, though I did fault some of the assumptions about the magnetic field near powerlines. Even so, the main theme that cattle and deer tend to align with geomagnetic fields was thoroughly developed. The disturbance due to powerlines might have more questions but there is genuine evidence to be explained. A contrary paper by Hert et al (J Comp Physiol 2011) claimed to have a failed replication, finding "no alignment". As with previous challenges, the original authors (Begall et al 2011) have soundly rebutted this objection, showing that Hert et al had mistaken hay bales for cows, among many other gaffes in their much inferior work. The authors of the inferior work were also Czech, including one from their National Institute of Public Health, which sponsored the study. This does look like yet another example of "failed replication" from established national political interests, which serves to undermine the credibility not of the original research but of the reactionary establishment efforts to bury it.

Statements made by the editor or by other parties and quoted for information do not necessarily represent the views of Revolt. Criticism of government and industry, and grievances from members of the public, are in the nature of Revolt's work, though we try to give credit where it is due. Revolt is strictly non-party-political and regrets any offence which may be inadvertently caused.




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