opposing unnecessary, excessive and intrusive powerline development
REVOLT Newsletter 240
Revolt news 30/10/2007
1. Martin Weatherall, co-director of WEEP (Wireless Electrical and Electromagnetic Pollution) in Canada, writes about "stray voltage" (ground current electricity). He claims to be electro hyper-sensitive and personally damaged by "stray voltages", and is presently engaging with the Ontario Electricity Board (OEB) to have the risks recognised. WEEP was formerly SWEEP (Safe Wireless Electrical and Electromagnetic Pollution), see http://www.buergerwelle.de/ .
2. Dermot Finnigan writes that he has, for financial reasons, finally had to withdraw from legal defence against National Grid over its powerline bordering on his property (APPENDIX A; see also previous news e.g. news225.1 and its Appendix A). It seems very regrettable that this saga could not have been more sympathetically and effectively resolved by National Grid. Worse, it seems that sheer financial power has secured victory for a large corporation over a local resident, without resolving the technical dispute.
3. After the Dermot Finnigan case there remain real issues of very substantial safety liabilities imposed without consent or compensation upon close neighbours to powerlines. There is a case for government intervention to ensure that wayleaves are required in borderline cases where safety margins affect neighbouring land, even if it is not actually crossed by the powerline. I will put this to the new government department BERR.
4. A Guardian article "Minister confirms retreat from 20% renewable energy target" is at APPENDIX B.
5. A news item from Israel, passed on by Martin Weatherall, reports that the Knesset (Israeli parliament) approved on 24th October 2007 regulations banning placing cellular antennas on residential buildings in Israel. The article reports "The Non-Ionizing Radiation Law was introduced in 2005, and came into effect in January 2007, but the attached regulations were yet to be set." http://tinyurl.com/393rq5
6. An "underground cable law" has been drafted for the German Lower Saxony State government in collaboration with the Federal Secretary for the Environment. If approved, it will require electricity lines to be buried if they should pass within 200 metres of country houses or within 400 metres of urban settlements. Designated landscape conservation areas would also be protected from new lines. The aim is to facilitate grid development for renewable energy. Thanks to Krzysztof Kuklinski from Poland for the link, and to Alasdair Philips from Powerwatch for the translation (APPENDIX C). http://tinyurl.com/2vnwvz
7. The news item from Lower Saxony also refers to the prospects for DC cables, taking into account savings on power losses compared with an AC line. This is a well known effect, but, because of the need for converter stations, DC is said to be uneconomic for high-voltage lines below 100 km or more.
8. Colin Andrew writes from the Republic of Ireland saying that the proposed 400 kV Cavan-Tyrone interconnector only came into the public domain there about three weeks ago. Local groups are commencing a coalition umbrella body that will coordinate matters and will liaise with all concerned groups. Colin says "Our policy is not to seek to have the project cancelled but to insist it is undergrounded. All of the so-called route options run in close proximity to several schools and housing. There seems to us to be undue haste and secrecy by Eirgrid and a reluctance for them to inform the residents along the routes. From our polls we see close to 100 per cent opposition along the route corridors from all land owners."
9. Cllr Jim Lennon from Armagh, north of the border, passed on an article from the Irish Sunday Independent (APPENDIX D), about the growing protest in County Monaghan south of the border. http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/
10. The 100th edition of news@all-energy was issued at the end of October, with the usual wide range of reports on renewable energy and a growing section on nuclear power. This time the grid news was mainly company matters, with little of interest to Revolt, apart from a bare but extremely long link to a press article "Supergrid plans" in http://www.thisisnorthscotland.co.uk .
APPENDIX A Dermot Finnigan withdraws from legal defence against National Grid.
Dermot Finnigan writes:
"We have had to withdraw from defending ourselves in court against National Grid. We are unable to raise funds to pay for legal representation due to my bank refusing a loan.
The power line and its emissions have sterilised the property to render it worthless. A £1M home can now not support a £20K loan to defend ourselves against the very thing that causes the problem. National Grid have still refused to acknowledge we have a problem.
I think it is important that this extraordinary circumstance is conveyed to everyone who lives in close proximity to power lines. National Grid have served me with an injunction stopping me asking the Chairman for help."
APPENDIX B Guardian article on retreat from renewables target.
http://tinyurl.com/3cctf2 Minister confirms retreat from 20% renewable energy target Lee Glendinning, The Guardian, Wednesday October 24 2007
The government signalled last night that it is pulling back from its aspiration to source 20% of Britain's energy supply from renewables by 2020.
Malcolm Wicks, the energy minister, said Britain would source up to 15% of its power from renewables by 2020, but that did not mean it was backing away from the EU-wide target of 20% by the same date.
The targets were announced after the Guardian reported yesterday that ministers were planning to water down climate change pledges and were seeking lower renewables targets before binding commitments are framed in December.
Mr Wicks said yesterday that the Brussels deal did not specify that all EU members had to meet the 20% level, as long as it was achieved across Europe as a whole.
"We're negotiating with the European commission, but it's got to be a considerable figure," he told BBC's Newsnight. "It's got to be somewhere between 10% and 15%."
He also said Britain was contributing to the fight against climate change in other areas. "At the end of the day, renewables is a means to an end. The end is bringing down carbon emissions," he said. Leaked briefing documents prepared for Gordon Brown by John Hutton, the secretary of state for business, and obtained by the Guardian, revealed that the target Tony Blair had signed up to earlier this year (for 20% of all European energy to come from renewable sources by 2020) was expensive and came encumbered with "severe practical difficulties".
The documents also said Mr Hutton would tell Mr Brown that Britain should work with governments that were sceptical about climate change to persuade them to set lower renewable targets.
Mr Blair not only signed Britain up to the EU deal, but also made it an "aspiration" that Britain should achieve a mix of renewable energy sources equivalent to 20% of Britain's energy needs by 2020.
Yet wind power in the UK lags well behind Europe's frontrunners, while marine energy is still in its infancy.
The leaked report estimated that increasing wind, wave and solar energy from the current UK level of 2% to just 9% by 2020 would cost around £4bn.
Environmental campaigners have said they are concerned that the potential shift in government policy will mean Mr Brown will surrender any claim to international leadership on climate change.
APPENDIX C Lower Saxony draft legislation to bury powerlines.
BMU-Pressedienst no. 271/07 Berlin, 12.10.2007
Federal and State governments have prepared a Lower Saxony underground cable law
The Lower Saxony First Minister, Wulff, introduced today, jointly with the Federal Secretary of the Environment, Gabriel, the compiled draft of a underground cable law for Lower Saxony. "I will present this draft all four leaders of the parliamentary group in the federal state parliament, So we have to launch this law in this legislature," said Wulff. He specifically thanked Federal Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, for the constructive cooperation. "With the opportunity to install new underground powerlines a major obstacle to development of renewable energies is removed. Without a rapid network expansion, the political climate change objectives of the federal government can not be achieved."
This gives an approval procedure for high voltage transmission lines to be buried under ground in the future, if the minimum distances for the overhead lines, which will be legislated firmly in the national regional planning program, cannot be met. A minimum distance of 200 metres is to apply for overhead lines to residential buildings in rural areas, and for the urban areas, at least 400 metres will be necessary. After this new regulation, existing landscape conservation areas may not be crossed by new overhead lines. Underground cabling will be part of most electricity route planning in the future.
The bill also helps the prospects for the Wahle-Mecklar powerline to use Direct Current cabling. When the total cost (including running costs) is compared to similar AC overhead lines, the underground cables will save at least half of the transmission power loss costs. This compensation from long-term energy saving allows for the higher costs in the production and installation of the cables. "This scheme will help the citizens and not be against them, and move the necessary network development forward. To get the underground line energy-saving is a real market opportunity," said Wulff.
APPENDIX D Cavan-Tyrone Interconnector.
Sunday October 28 2007
ANN Murray divides her time between her job with Monaghan County Council and raising her three children in the sleepy village of Annyala, in the north of the border county. She involves herself in the day-to-day goings on of her community, welcomed the opening of a creche for pre- school children, and enjoys rearing her family in the peaceful countryside where she grew up.
Two weeks ago, this typical working mother took on an unexpected role as community activist. The spur was not the more usual issues that plague country communities, issues such as rural crime. It was her almost chance discovery that her rural hamlet fell right in the path of an 80-kilometre high-voltage crossborder electricity cable planned to run from Cavan, across Monaghan to Tyrone. A second power line in Meath would boost the supply to the densely populated north east.
In gestation for three years, and announced by energy ministers north and south last year, the cables would connect the Republic's supply to the North, bringing cheaper and more efficient electricity into Ireland.
Three weeks ago, the proposed routes for the cables were unveiled for the first time to the unsuspecting communities that will host them.
For a project that will have an impact on several hundred thousand households, the launch was remarkably low key. There was no leaflet drop or information campaign. Just advertisements in five local newspapers and an invitation to attend one of three public meetings -- one for each county. The three meetings were attended by no more than 500 people. They were told that the power lines are vital to Ireland's economic infrastructure.
The first Ann heard of it was from her sister two weeks ago, when she learnt that EirGrid, the operator of this line, was holding a public meeting for local residents. She went to the Glencarn Hotel in Castleblaney with a mental note of questions in her head. Cheaper electricity was fine but not if it meant exposing her children to health risks, having pylons blight her view and devalue her property.
She wanted to know where the pylons would be erected, how high they would be and what were the health effects.
"We got no answers," she said. "Our community is very angry over the health implications, the serious, serious health implications of the high-voltage power lines. There are hundreds and hundreds of people who will be affected. We have a school and a creche here and all three proposed routes will be in the townlands around us. Not alone are there health risks, but it will spoil the look of the place, and the value of our homes. Who wants to live in a house next to a pylon?"
Ann responded by setting up a public meeting of her own. She telephoned friends and neighbours to spread the word, booked a room in the CleverClogs creche, and organised tea and biscuits for afterwards. Almost 100 people crammed into the community hall last Monday night. Parents, teachers, farmers, young
couples, pregnant women, many were hearing for the first time that pylons would be plotting a course in the townlands of Annyala and beyond. The only public representative was a Fine Gael councillor, Gary Carville.
It quickly became evident that many of those who crammed into the classroom felt that they had been caught on the hop.
"Was this debated in the Dail?" asked one man.
"Was this known about before the General Election?" asked another.
"We must stand united on this," said Councillor Carville.
Jim Lennon, a former high level civil servant who is involved in the anti-pylon protest against the North's section of power line, talked tactics.
"Organise yourselves into groups. Knock on every door. Tell people what is happening," he said. "We can delay them and we will delay them on technical issues. It does not stop it but it does put costs up."
The meeting in Annyala marks the start of what looks like being a long and divisive battle that could yet end in the courts. At its core is economic advancement over what communities such as Annyala claim are their human rights.
On the one hand, there is the efficient energy infrastructure which is vital to Ireland's economic development. The Celtic Tiger has drained Ireland's energy resources, particularly in the highly populated north east.
Ireland needs access to other energy supplies. To achieve this end, the governments north and south have launched the single electricity market which will start next month.
What it means for consumers is lower utility bills. Electricity suppliers will be able to trade electricity on the all-Ireland market and sell it at competitive prices to customers. British suppliers are already looking at entering the Irish market.
Facilitating all of this is EirGrid, the State body that builds the infrastructure that transmits the power.
The biggest project is the cross-border high-voltage power line undertaken with Northern Ireland Electricity. The E180m, 400 kv power line will run over 45 kilometres of land in the Republic, starting out at a proposed new sub-station in Kingscourt, Co Cavan, running across Monaghan and continuing for another 35 kilometres to Co Tyrone. The second is a 400 kv power line that will run from Woodland, near Dunboyne, Co Meath, and connect to Kingscourt. It will stretch across 58 kilometres of land, much of it heavily populated commuter belt towns. Both lines will run overhead, suspended by pylons along their respective routes.
The economic progress brings with it a downside -- the blight of pylons, fears that the homes traversed by the power lines will plummet in value, and more importantly to many, the disputed health risks.
EirGrid insisted this weekend that there are no health risks associated with the power lines. Its confident position is at odds with the broader scientific community which, at its most sceptical, has broadly acknowledged the possibility of health risks.
The World Health Organisation believes that there is only a possibility that electromagnetic fields may increase the risk of childhood leukemia but has dismissed links to other illnesses.
Other research, including a key Californian study, suggest the possible health risks are more widespread. They cite adult leukemia, adult brain cancer, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, breast cancer, depression, certain types of heart disease, miscarriage and suicide.
A key British study -- the Draper report -- found that children living within 200 metres of a power line were 69 per cent more likely to develop leukaemia, and those living between 200 metres and 600 metres away had a 23 per cent increased risk.
Earlier this year, a British government advisory group charged with looking into the issue, reported that the best option for reducing childhood leukemia was to ban the building of homes and schools within 60 metres of power lines.
The group -- which included industry representatives, academics and health experts -- was so deeply divided on the health risks that they failed to agree any recommendations other than on advising people on how to manage the risk to electromagnetic exposure for themselves.
Denis Henshaw, a physics professor at Bristol University, was one of the contributors to that report.
"Unfortunately, this is a really adversarial area. But make no mistake. From my point of view, there are large numbers of health effects," he said. "No one wants to turn the lights out. I don't want to turn the lights out. But we are talking about a completely unregulated industry here," he said.
In Ireland, the Department of the Environment, which takes the World Health Organisation line on the debate, has responsibility for the health effects of electromagnetic fields, but no official body has been tasked with monitoring it. However, the Department is in the process of extending that role to the Radiological Protection Institute.
There is no international standard on the safe distance from electromagnetic fields.
In Ireland, there is nothing to prevent house-building right up to or even beneath a power line.
EirGrid said its "design aim" is to place the power lines within 50 metres of buildings, while those who attended one of its public meetings were told it would be 25 metres. A spokesman said the distance was not for public health reasons, but rather for visual and amenity reasons.
In the UK, the safe distance is now taken as the 60 metres suggested in the Sage report. In Sweden, it is 150 metres.
For the protesters, the answer is simple. They want the cables laid underground.
"When there is an issue like this and when you are not sure, and the preponderance of statistical evidence would suggest that there is a higher likelihood of risk, then you adopt a precautionary principle and you do more research," said Jim Lennon.
"Either you shield people from it, in terms of houses and property which would be prohibitively expensive, or alternatively you bury it.
"It is expensive but in a first world economy, how do the costs and benefits bear out on this. Who bears all the costs and gets the benefits?"
EirGrid claims the cost is prohibitive. It would be eight times more expensive to lay them underground -- about E1.4bn for the cross-border cable alone. There are technical considerations too. Repairs would take days rather than hours, EirGrid says.
John Fitzgerald, research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, agreed. "The inter-connector is very important in economic terms. It will make it less likely for the lights to go off, it will be cheaper for consumers and in the long run, there will be more efficient electricity, and a more secure supply," he said.
"The cost of putting the power lines underground would be likely to defeat the benefits of it, which could leave you with a less secure system."
It would appear that the onward march of the pylons is inevitable.
Because the power lines are part of the national infrastructure, the State can compulsorily purchase the land it needs from those who resist allowing the pylons on their property. Nor does the powerline go through the ordinary planning process. As a national infrastructure project, it will go straight to An Bord Pleanala.
EirGrid said it is engaging in extensive consultation with communities. The three public meetings already held are "the first of many". EirGrid will not decide which route the power lines will take until early 2008.
According to a spokesman, the affected communities will not get any advance notice. The route will be announced at the same time the planning application is submitted. Then, those who wish to, can make submissions through the planning process. The planning authority can expect to be inundated.
"We are going to be a united front. We are all going to stand together," said Ann Murray. "A mother is here to protect her children. Not alone our own children, but we have to protect everyone else's children too. The bottom line is if this is going our way, it is going underground."
-- Mike O'Carroll
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