REVOLT opposing unnecessary, excessive and intrusive powerline development

opposing unnecessary, excessive
and intrusive powerline development

REVOLT Newsletter 367

Revolt news 27/06/2013 Print (pdf) Version

1. German protest groups have won delays of construction work on HV 380kV overhead lines, through the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. With its anti-nuclear and pro-wind policy, Germany faces major grid development. Two local “peoples initiative” groups, BI Katzhütte/Goldisthal (Chairman Thomas Tredup) and BI Schalkau (Leader Margit Heinz), object to the line and to cutting down a swathe through the Thuringian forest. Press reports in German are here and here.

2. Bredhurst Woodland Action Group has raised the alarm after National Grid had a swathe of woodland cut down in Kent (reported 15 June). From the BWAG web site: “A large area of scrub at Day Valley and the bank facing Day Valley have been totally cleared by Houlbec Forestry, working on behalf of National Grid. Obviously, vegetation must be cut in the vicinity of pylons as we all need electricity. However, in previous years the cutting back was much more sympathetic to the environment - similar to coppicing and, to BWAG's knowledge, has never been carried out so late in the season while birds are nesting. Unfortunately, the remains of eggs, nests and an Adder have been found. The Police are involved and we await their findings.”

3. Richard Smith, National Grid’s head of energy strategy, is reported to have told the Hay Festival that in 2011-2012 less than one thousandth of wind energy delivered was needed from fossil fuels “to fill the gaps when the wind did not blow” (Telegraph blog by Geoffrey Lean, 31st May). The blog goes on to say “no new fossil-fuel power station has been built to provide back-up for wind farms, and none is in prospect”. The reality is about extending existing fossil fuelled power stations for back-up.

4. Back-up is more complicated than Geoffrey Lean or Richard Smith suggest. The need for fossil fuels is much larger than implied. A better source is Cambridge Prof David Mackay’s very readable “Without Hot Air” Chapter 26. I could not find a formal written statement or report from Richard Smith along the lines alleged, but his current presentation on National Grid’s website says: “Existing gas-fired plant remains open longer as a back-up for the significant amount of wind capacity”.

5. Geoffrey Lean’s Telegraph later blog 20 June says: “But a greedy and arrogant wind industry has for too long ridden roughshod over local communities, and done little to share its guaranteed and generous profits with them”. As with powerlines, if there really is a national need for some unwelcome infrastructure, then there might be an “equilibrium” level of compensation for people impacted by it: too little and we object; too much and we compete to host the impact! But the compensation needs to spread fairly among all the affected public, not just the landowners and a token for parish councils.

6. Excessive demands on the Precautionary Principle (PP) can get it a bad name. Sometimes campaigners are portrayed (rightly or wrongly) as demanding zero risk, or wanting to ban outright any new development which might not be fully understood or proven fully safe, for example with GM crops or food. Proportionality is an essential feature of the PP in EU and other policy - so much so that it might be better promoted as a PPP. The question then is “how much” precaution, not “whether or not”.

7. A key point of the PP, or better the PPP (Principle of Proportionate Precaution), is to cope with uncertainty about causation. This is not just probabilistic uncertainty amenable to quantitative risk assessment, but involves what Spiegelhalter calls “epistemic uncertainty” which becomes subjective. Even with subjective aspects, which after all enter into most social decisions, the PPP is a helpful approach. What spoils it is when campaigners demand zero risk or developers demand zero precaution. Such extremes damage the credibility of both sides.

8. With Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF), with IARC class 2B recognition of possible risks for power frequency and for mobile phones, an outright ban doesn’t come into it. The concerned public recognises the benefits. What is wanted is a reasonable approach to exposure reduction. The SAGE group advising the UK Department of Health on ELF EMF supported the ALARA approach (as low as reasonably achievable) to exposure. But by restricting consideration to the risk of childhood leukaemia, the amount of precaution was restricted to very low cost measures. More recent research on other outcomes like Alzheimer’s disease should raise the level of precaution. Rapidly growing research on possible mechanisms, including quantum biological effects, and on animal sensitivity to magnetic fields at very low intensities, should strengthen the plausibility of such effects and further support precaution.

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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