REVOLT opposing unnecessary, excessive and intrusive powerline development

opposing unnecessary, excessive and intrusive powerline development

REVOLT Newsletter 220

Revolt news 25/02/2007

1. Dermot Finnigan battles on with his dispute with National Grid over his home at Sale near Manchester. We have reported this saga many times before. It seems no nearer resolution.

2. Snips from news@all-energy issue 82 (mid-Feb 2007) are at APPENDIX B.

3. Concise Briefings on the Beauly-Denny inquiry from Nicki Baker of Stirling Before Pylons are at APPENDIX C. Nicki stresses that these are just her perceptions and she is not up with all the technical issues, but they seem pretty good general briefings to me. Inquiry statements can be seen on the official inquiry web site: http://www.beaulydenny.co.uk  .

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APPENDIX B Snips from news@all-energy 82 of mid-Feb 2007:

4.2.Beauly-Denny Inquiry under way >The public inquiry on plans to build a high-voltage power line from Beauly, in the Highlands, to Denny, Stirlingshire, promises to be one of the most important and hard fought in recent Scottish history. The Inquiry, which began on 6 February, has received some 17,000 objections. By the time the three reporters have finished hearing evidence, it will be December http://news.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=193462007  On the eve of the public inquiry into proposals for the Beauly to Denny replacement line, Scottish Renewables, the green energy trade body, called for a timely approval to a project crucial to delivering Scotland's green energy potential <http://www.scottishrenewables.com/newsitem.asp?id=132> If objectors block the upgrading of the Beauly-Denny electricity transmission line, then we might as well give up on renewable energy  http://tinyurl.com/yodjq5  To keep in touch with the Inquiry go to http://www.beaulydenny.co.uk/Default.aspx 

4.3.Commission not necessary say Scotland's big two Scotland's big two power companies have delivered a body blow to calls for an energy commission to develop a national fuel strategy, with one describing the idea as another "talking shop" http://business.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=221542007 

4.4.Green energy could go under water Green electricity from Scotland could be run down the east coast of Britain through an undersea cable costing billions of pounds, the Crown Estate said. The agency has commissioned an initial study to investigate the possibility of an offshore transmission system that could distribute renewable energy generated in Scotland around the UK http://tinyurl.com/35egvj 

7.1.Severn Barrage route unveiled The first map showing the route of the proposed multi-billion pound Severn Barrage has been unveiled http://tinyurl.com/3xbod5 

10.3.Storing gigawatts of electricity Refrigerated warehouses might soon be used to store not just food, but gigawatts of electricity. A plan dreamt up in the Netherlands could see the giant fridges acting as massive batteries. They would buffer swings in supply and demand from electricity created from renewable sources http://tinyurl.com/2ovzyc 

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APPENDIX C STIRLING BEFORE PYLONS Briefings on Beauly-Denny powerline inquiry

Strategy Session Week 1: 6-9 February 2007

The long-awaited Public Inquiry into SSE's proposals to build the Beauly - Denny power line opened in Perth on Tuesday, 6 February. The Strategy session of the Inquiry, dealing with all the over-arching and generic issues (including the need for the line, the health issues, and the principles of undergrounding, as well as a lot of methodological issues) will continue until 11 May, Tuesday to Friday, between 10 am and 5 - 5.30pm, at the Quality Hotel, next to Perth Station. There will be a 2-week break for Easter.

Local issues will be dealt with at four local sessions, starting in Inverness, and reaching Stirling on 20 November. The Stirling session, and the entire Inquiry, will eventually reach its end on 20 December 2007.

All the evidence to be brought by SSE - comprising 35 witnesses - will be brought in turn, taking up the first 5 weeks of the Inquiry.

The first week was taken up with the evidence of just 3 witnesses. The first dealt with issues relating to SSE's and Scottish Power Transmission's licenses to transmit and distribute electricity across Scotland. He was interrupted by the Scottish Executive's Reporters - the 3 men sitting in judgement on the evidence that will be brought by SSE, the Councils, SNH and a wide range of community groups and individuals - to be asked a question about undergrounding.

This question seemed to set the scene for the Inquiry. Even though SSE dismissed the possibility of putting any of the line underground when they brought forward their proposals in October 2005, and have since said they would not be putting forward any proposals for undergrounding, they have been forced into something of a U-turn by public and political pressure. Issues relating to undergrounding have in fact cropped up regularly throughout this first week.

The second witness gave evidence on the need for the line, and the possible alternatives. Although this is a highly technical issue, it is absolutely central to SSE's case, and the witness was grilled for 2 solid days by the Advocate for the Councils and the Cairngorms National Park Authority, followed in turn by the QC acting for Eilean Aigas Estate and Stirling Before Pylons, the Chair of Highlands Before Pylons, a specialist in the workings of the national grid, and the technical adviser to the Inquiry from the Department of Trade and Industry.

It is hard for the lay person to follow such technical issues, but what seemed to be emerging was that SSE had made up its mind as early as 2002, if not before, that it would pursue an overland, overhead line, and it has not given serious consideration to other possibilities. The witness did however acknowledge that a wide range of other possibilities existed - including using 2 sub-sea cables, instead of an inland power line. All the other possibilities seem to have been excluded from consideration, on the grounds that they cost more, even though they would still be cost-effective in terms of the savings to the consumer.

However, in developing their proposals, it seems that SSE has had regard only to two issues: resolving the technical challenges, and finding the cheapest solution. In justifying their choice of an overhead, inland route, SSE's witnesses referred frequently to the economic and efficiency justifications for their choice, but failed to acknowledge or put costs on all the environmental damage that would be done in the process.

It may be that the whole case will rest on what price should be put on saving all the environmental and human damage that would result from the overhead line, and whether this is sufficient to justify the additional costs of using alternative methods, such as putting the most sensitive parts of the route underground, or installing cables under the sea.

It is interesting to see that these messages have already been grasped by many politicians and other key people. BBC's Newsnight programme on 6 February featured a discussion between Mark Ruskell MSP, and Brian Wilson, once Energy Minister in the Labour government in Westminster, now Chairman of a wind farm development company, Airtricity. They both seemed to agree that the solution was either a sub-sea cable, or selective undergrounding, and they deplored - as we do! - the fact that this cumbersome, immensely expensive Public Inquiry is going to drag on for most of this year, exploring all the minutiae, when the solution is so obvious.

Nevertheless, the Inquiry is taking place, and we see no choice but to participate in it to the best of our ability, in order to stand up for the people and landscapes of the Stirling area.

We gained one small, behind-the-scenes victory this week. SSE, despite all their denials, turned out to have commissioned some work on putting parts of the route underground, and this included 3 short lengths round Stirling. They distributed the report in mid-January. SSE say they chose all the areas simply as examples of the many types of terrain that might be involved, to investigate the technical challenges and costs, but nevertheless, their examples were put forward in some detail. On Day 1 of the Inquiry, SSE's Advocate stated their intention of dealing with all aspects of this report in Week 3 of the Strategy session, but we have won the concession that the detailed examination of their "example" routes will be left to the area sessions. In this way, many more people in the Stirling area will have time to take an interest in this report and its implications, and will be better able to attend the local session of the Inquiry to listen to the debate on the issues.

In the background, we have been irritated by comments coming from Scottish Renewables, the body promoting the interests of commercial wind farm developers, to the effect that SSE are being prevented by NIMBY objectors from getting on with providing the capacity to harvest electricity from wind farms. Our view is the opposite: if SSE had done their job properly in the first place, they would not have left themselves open to all the criticisms they have received, but would have taken them seriously, and looked carefully for alternatives that would have minimised or done away with all such objections!

There is now a website for the Inquiry, <http://www.beaulydenny.co.uk>. This contains every party's Statements of Case, and the evidence to be brought by all the witnesses, as well as the timetable and an indication of progress.

Strategy Session Wk 2: 13-16 February 2007

Week 2 of the Strategy session continued with more battles royal, much as in the first week. Eight more witnesses appeared for SSE, the first four continuing to seek to establish that the proposed upgrade is needed, that it is the best available solution, and that SSE have gone about the process of developing their proposals in accord with the requirements of the Electricity Act 1989. Each witness in turn then had to face a determined barrage of questions, from the combined Councils, the Beauly - Denny Landscape Group, Highlands Before Pylons, and the Department of Trade & Industry's technical adviser to the Inquiry, as well as from others.

As in Week 1, there was a great deal of technical discussion about how much future demand there will be for electricity transmission from future wind farm developments; how often the demands will exceed the currently available capacity; whether and to what extent there is spare capacity already in the system, in the form of unused or underused existing power lines; whether the intrinsically volatile levels of electricity generated will or won't destabilise the entire grid; whether the route being proposed by SSE is in fact the best; how many additional overhead power lines would be needed, when and at what cost, if the Beauly to Denny were to be built; what other options there would be, and so on.

And as in Week 1, the lay observer can only make cautious summaries as to what was established in the course of the week. Key issues appeared to be:

The reason why additional capacity is needed is to carry electricity that SSE expects to be generated by wind farms, in the area allocated to SHETL (Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Ltd), i.e. northern Scotland including the Islands. The smaller increase in wind farm generation in the SPT (Scottish Power Transmission) area, in central and southern Scotland, does not really figure greatly in the equation.

If the Beauly to Denny line were built, and if the volume of electricity generated by wind farms were to build up over coming years in the way anticipated by SSE, then in due course there would need to be major investment in further inland, potentially overhead power lines in central and southern Scotland (the SPT area). These include a major upgrade of the Scotland - England interconnector, at a price of around 425 million (to find somewhere to send the excess electricity that would be generated, at times, by the wind farms), and an upgraded route between Denny and Wishaw involving some 17 km of overhead line, at a cost of 100 - 150 million (to balance the system).

The Denny - Wishaw line would be similar to the Beauly - Denny, double- strung at 400kV and 275kV, therefore requiring giant pylons, and carrying all the health risks associated with high-voltage overhead power lines to people living close. It would be needed by around 2015 - 2016, so SPT will be needing to start active planning of it shortly after permission were given to Beauly - Denny.

It became apparent, again, that SSE did not seriously consider other alternatives before developing the Beauly - Denny proposals. Although a dozen other possible solutions were put forward by their witness on costings, he readily acknowledged that these options had only been looked at recently.

It also became apparent, again, that SSE looked only at the engineering feasibility and the costings, before deciding to develop the Beauly - Denny proposals. Asked to what extent environmental considerations had been taken into account when looking at other options (such as taking the route into Kincardine instead of into Denny), the witness said it was just a "rough-cut appraisal", with only the most "blindingly obvious" environmental constraints being taken into account - the sort that could be dealt with by the companies' in-house staff, and not requiring inputs from any environmental consultants.

The point was thus established that SSE's claims of having carried out a "rigourous process" of balancing the technical, economic and environmental issues before deciding on their broad solution of an inland, overhead line between Beauly and Denny was really not justified.

A later witness refused to answer questions about the remit given to the environmental consultant, when he was brought on board.

The alternative solution of a sub-sea cable continues to be a very real if little-acknowledged option, though the costs involved are not clear at this stage. SSE have given contradictory evidence on this, indicating in one document (put into the process very late on) that a sub-sea cable could be taken down to Sunderland for an 245 million more than the Beauly - Denny line, or to Deeside for 80 million more than that, while in evidence it was stated that a sub-sea cable from Beauly to Hunterston would cost 1 billion more than the Beauly - Denny proposals (but these were costed at 3 times the normally quoted costs...)

Clearly, sub-sea cables would cost more than putting an overhead line between Beauly and Denny, but if all the additional costs of upgrading the Scotland - England connections, and upgrading the Denny - Wishaw link are taken into account, it is not clear which would win, even on straight cost terms, let alone if all the environmental costs are taken into account. It illustrates perfectly how flawed this Public Inquiry process is, that such technical and specialist issues are being discussed without recourse to the right level of objective, impartial, high-level expertise, and underlines heavily how badly we need a Strategic Environmental Assessment to be carried out, to give the proper context for this hugely important decision.

There was also clear illustration of some of the absurdities of the current regime for managing electricity generation and transmission. It is clear that all the supposed need for extra transmission capacity is triggered by the compensation that has to be paid (ultimately, by consumers) to wind farm operators, if they are told to shut down their turbines on the relatively rare occasions when the wind is blowing so hard in so many areas that the amount of electricity being generated would otherwise overload the system.

It is also clear that the "best" perceived solution is, in such circumstances, to shut down conventional power generating stations such as Longannet, because their electricity is relatively cheap (30 per megawatt hour), rather than wind farms hundreds of miles further north, because the electricity they produce is far more costly (at 75 per megawatt hour), and they have to be given more compensation accordingly!

One can only conclude that we desperately need an intelligent, well- informed, detailed strategy for energy generation, incorporating all the implications for energy transmission, at both the UK and the Scotland level, before this convoluted process is allowed to go any further. That, however, is outwith the remit of this Inquiry, so we apparently have to continue with this painstaking, painful, immensely costly charade for just as long as it takes.

Strategy Session Wk 3: 20-23 February 2007

Undergrounding & Under-sea cables

Week 3 has seen undergrounding put firmly on the map. Despite all their protestations that they would never consider putting any part of the line underground, SSE fielded three witnesses to talk about doing just that. They looked at the generic issues, including the possibility of putting in an HVDC sub-sea cable link, perhaps right down to Sunderland or Deeside in England, but wriggled out of answering questions as to whether the costs of this (around 590 - 680 million for a 1.2GW under- sea link) should properly be compared with the costs of upgrading not only the Beauly - Denny line (350 million) but also the Denny - Wishaw ring (100 - 150 million) and a third Scotland - England interconnector (425 million). Indeed, it may be the case that the sub-sea link would need to be of higher capacity to be equivalent to the full Beauly - Denny upgrade, but this awaits clarification for those of us without the technical knowledge to have worked it all out for ourselves already.

SSE's experts confirmed that, if parts of the line were to be put underground, then XLPE would be the technology of choice; and that that would have been their recommendation to SSE, had they been asked, in September 2005, when SSE's proposals were being finalised. SSE, of course, continued to recognise only the older and much more expensive oil-filled cable technology until very recently, even though the manufacturing base is shrinking rapidly as XLPE takes over everywhere.

SSE's consultants had even worked out 5 "case studies" of stretches of line that could be put underground, that just happened to coincide with the three areas where the overhead line is being most hotly contended. One at least of these is highly impractical, going as it does right through the campus (a HGDL) of the University of Stirling (one of the largest employers in the area), and up a very pretty little rural road, the high rocky sides of which would have to be blasted away to achieve this. One suspects that even the authors of the report may agree that it is perhaps not really feasible to put an underground route this side of Stirling, but as we aren't allowed to talk about specific locations at this Strategy session, we'll have to wait for the Stirling area session of the Inquiry, at the end of the year, to ask them.

The case studies were supposedly designed to highlight the costs of undergrounding and, while the details presented were all highly contentious, there is no doubt that using underground cable is many times more expensive than an overhead line. SSE's consultants' comparisons varied between 5 and 11 times more.

The week ended with the cross-examination of SSE's landscape architect consultant, who has had a finger in every pie, it seems, and who is totally and utterly against using underground cable anywhere. He comes across as rather rigid on this issue, as also on the issue of what constitutes a "highly sensitive area" - anywhere that is not designated a National Scenic Area is ruled out by definition, in his book. It was nevertheless rather interesting that the advocate for SSE made the point of reading out, before leading him in evidence, the ruling made by the Inspector to the Inquiry into the North Yorkshire line, whose definition of what constituted a highly sensitive area was rather more generous, and would certainly seem to fit a number of the areas most at issue here.

The cross-examination of this witness is to continue at the start of Week 3, to be followed by the witness on EMFs, who is being flown over by SSE from New York for this purpose, then the well-known Dr MacLean on the consultation process, and the witness on Tourism.

Getting Balfour Beatty to share information on EMFs

Another theme that has rumbled on through the course of this third week of the Inquiry is that of the Electrical and Magnetic Fields (EMFs) that would be generated by the Beauly - Denny power line. The DTI's Technical Adviser to the Inquiry made enquiries early in the week about 2 appendices missing from a report that Balfour Beatty (the contractors who will build the line, if permission is granted) had commissioned from independent consultants, to get an external audit of the appropriateness of their proposals.

The missing appendices detailed the levels of EMFs that would occur at the point of greatest sag of the wires between each pair of pylons and, when produced the next day, showed some of these to be in excess of the maximum permitted by the Health Protection Agency (HPA). SSE, when challenged, acknowledged they hadn't considered these issues or assessed their importance, or complied with HPA requirements to set out whether this would be expected to cause problems and, if so, what design changes will be needed to comply with the regulations. They claimed that they didn't need to do this until such time as the line became operational, but that didn't appear to satisfy the Technical Adviser, who asked for the relevant information to be made available.

SSE's advocate made a somewhat rambling complaint to the Reporters late in the week, the gist of which appeared to be that the Technical Adviser is asking too many awkward questions without giving them due notice. The Reporters are to consider the issues over the weekend.

Third party participation in the Inquiry process

This week showed up still further how very difficult it is for third parties to engage effectively in this Public Inquiry. The Inquiry is being run rigidly, according to very arcane rules and, while these are quite familiar to SSE, the local authorities and SNH, and their legal representatives, they contain endless bear-traps for inexperienced third party groups, who are expected somehow to get to grips with the processes unaided, or founder.

One example relates to the process of asking questions about the great piles of relevant documents (amounting to 3 linear metres on a bookshelf) deposited for the Inquiry by SSE, often at the very last moment (and long after the supposed cut-off date). One has to wade through all the precognitions (i.e. the written evidence), and/or ask persistent questions of witnesses, to work out which witness is likely to be the right one to question about any particular document, and this may be counter-intuitive. So it was that one third party representative discovered that the witness he should have asked about a report on HVDC Sub-Sea Cables was in fact the Week 1 witness whose evidence was titled "Needs Case & Government Policy", and not the Week 3 witness whose subject matter clearly covered the other two reports on HVDC cabling, including under-sea cables. As a consequence, he found himself unable to ask the questions he wanted, and was told it was up to him to work out all this sort of thing for himself. He has appealed for the recall of the Week 1 witness.

Third party representatives frequently get into difficulty regarding the rules on cross-examination of witnesses. Another third party representative has been persistently knocked back from referring to such pertinent issues as how the electricity generated from the gigantic Lewis Wind Farm would fit into SSE's calculations of "need", or whether putting cables under the sea would give rise to fewer environmental impacts than an inland overhead line, with or without underground stretches.

His frustration gave rise to a somewhat outspoken set of comments to the press which resulted in an article in the Aberdeen-based Press & Journal newspaper, questioning the even-handedness of this Inquiry process. Few people would have seen this, had it not been for SSE's advocate drawing it to the attention of the Reporters, and everyone else, at the start of the week, and asking the Reporters to rule that no-one could brief the press during the course of the Inquiry. Fortunately, the Reporters required very little time to confer among themselves before stating bluntly that they would do no such thing.

One can gain a certain amount of pleasure from observing SSE delivering such own goals - a little light relief, in an otherwise rather difficult and very demanding process.

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The Strategy session of the Inquiry, dealing with all the over-arching and generic issues (including the need for the line, the health issues, and the principles of undergrounding, as well as a lot of methodological issues) will continue until 11 May, Tuesday to Friday, between 10 am and 5 - 5.30pm, at the Quality Hotel, next to Perth Station. There will be a 2-week break for Easter.

Local issues will be dealt with at four local sessions, starting in Inverness, and reaching Stirling on 20 November. The Stirling session, and the entire Inquiry, will eventually reach its end on 20 December 2007.

For further details, contact Nicki Baker or Peter Pearson on 01786 833399

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-- Mike O'Carroll

 

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