REVOLT opposing unnecessary, excessive and intrusive powerline development

opposing unnecessary, excessive
and intrusive powerline development

REVOLT Newsletter 340

Revolt news 24/09/2011 Print (pdf) Version

1. Chris Purser sends this link to an Economist article about the government / National Grid PR exercise, commenting “Another effusion from The Economist about designing a prettier pylon, if that is not an oxymoron! Also some disparaging remarks about undergrounding.” The article shows a whalebone-pair design against a telly-tubbyesque gentle yellow hill.

2. The Economist article quotes (on undergrounding): “You are effectively sterilising land use in the area,” says Richard Smith of National Grid; no planting, digging or building is allowed. That is strictly wrong and repeats the oft-favoured NG spin of a “30-metre sterilised swathe” through the countryside. In fact, crops are grown as normal over the cables and you can’t even tell where the cables are buried. There may be limits to deep ploughing but that’s insignificant; the reality is very benign, the NG image very malign. You are NOT effectively sterilising the land, Mr Smith, far from it – come to Yorkshire to see for yourself.

3. The aesthetics of pylons can be partly subjective, partly objective, though their negative impact on the landscape is well established and recognised in public inquiry conclusions. There are geometrical aspects to elegance, such as smooth curvature and low aspect ratio, as we see in Newcastle’s Millennium (blinking-eye) Bridge in contrast to the gormless two-planks Gateshead (flasher) Angel. Some may feel that the whalebone-pair pylon is more elegant than the traditional design, with its militant humanoid posture of a many-armed monster with arms raised in aggression. Even down-sloping arms might be less threatening. But ultimately, a line of giant pylons of any design cannot march across a landscape without disturbing its integrity and tranquility. The benefit of a softer design might well relieve 5%, maybe even 10%, of the impact, but the other 90% or more remains.

4. As Stirling Council in Scotland is negotiating with Scottish ministers its case for local underground cable (UGC) for the Beauly-Denny 400kV line, it is timely to sum up recent developments on the subject (APPENDIX A below).

5. Stour Valley Underground (SVU) encourages people to write to their MP in support of undergrounding the Bramford-Twinstead line, and all new transmission lines, following the Parliamentary 10 Minute Rule Motion put by Tessa Munt MP in July, due to have its second reading in November (details here and see also APPENDIX A below). SVU has an online letter writing kit on its website. 


APPENDIX A Recent (Sep 2011) developments on undergrounding HV powerlines

Revolt news issues can be seen on the news page at  

1. There is no single definitive summary of comparative costs and pros and cons. The topic is fraught with interested parties, so professional consultants' reports reflect their interests and their paymasters' interests. The markets for overhead lines (OHL) and underground cables (UGC) are close-knit and dominated by a few incestuous international players. This is demonstrated by the demise of the 'stalled' IET/KEMA review for National Grid as called for by DECC; it was announced only this month that PB Power will pick up the reins and do a (different) review but PB Power is equally prejudiced by its commercial interests as KEMA. Comment on these recent developments was given in revolt news339.  

2. Several reviews have been carried out in recent years by competent consulting companies. A summary of sources was given with revolt news318 at  

3. Cost ratios of UGC to OHL given in various reviews may range from about 3x to 20x but like-for-like comparison is unclear. Transmission capacity is a key factor; OHL give high capacity cheaply but may sometimes be replaced with lower capacity UGC thus reducing the cost-ratio; alternatively matching capacity may need more cables which can be configured to provide better security so the amount of redundancy needed with UGC would be less.  

4. Siemens and Stour Valley Underground (SVU) in England have promoted GIL technology for UGC. Tessa Munt MP claimed (Hansard 5 July 2011; revolt news334.4) that "Siemens has produced figures showing that using gas-insulated lines would reduce the whole-life costs of underground cables to under half the costs of pylons". This is not yet established more widely as a like-for-like comparison and Siemens is an interested party as a GIL provider, but Siemens is certainly competent. A letter from Siemens to SVU indicates 6M Euro per km for high-capacity GIL (several times higher than OHL even before civil works are added). Stirling may like to invite Siemens to comment on feasibility for a section of Beauly-Denny.  

5. This year National Grid has published two relevant reviews: one is the Brunswick wtp survey on public willingness-to-pay for UGC, which shows that there is wide support from billpayers for paying the cost of UGC for new HV lines provided it is spread over all consumers; the other is a review of NG's own Approach to UGC, which has become more flexible and open. Comment on these is at revolt news 337 and 339.  

6. The social and environmental costs of OHL are often overlooked. News337 comments on this with reference to the Government's UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UKNEA, see also news329.11) initiative that is supported by Defra etc.  

7. NG continues to exaggerate the impact of UGC, but less so than in previous decades. See news340.2 above. There is no 'sterilised swathe' other than during construction - the Stirling people would be welcome to come to Yorkshire to see for themselves how benign it is, and that's even on the old oil-filled technology - current standard XLPE is even more benign since it needs no oil reservoirs or pumping gear. There are photos on the revolt web site at .

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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