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Revolt Newsletter 106

4/12/2001


Revolt News 106

Text version including appendix

1. Wayleave hearings for the Baines and Robinson families, landowners at Rounton Gates, duly took place on 29 November 2001. Inspector Mr Butler courteously heard the evidence given by Peter Edmonds and myself for the landowners on the questions of need and health, though he said that, having checked with DTI, he would simply pass on such general evidence to Secretary of State without comment or recommendation. He regarded the general evidence on need as a "section 37 matter", i.e. concerning Electricity Act consent, which had already been given, and the general evidence on health as a government policy matter, both matters being outside his powers in this hearing. He would however consider specific evidence such as the particular exposures which the landowners would experience. The inspector estimated his report would take two months or more to produce. As my evidence had grown in three parts, I submitted a Summary (Appendix 1 to this news) with its Appendix criticising the NRPB (also at the end of this news).

2. People felt we won the arguments at the Wayleave Hearings. Whether that will cut any ice with DTI remains to be seen. There was a site visit the following day, when the Inspector turned up early and by chance met the visiting vet, who once again left him in no doubt about local concerns!

3. David Mercer, NGC project manager for the proposed lines, told me at the Rounton Gates hearings that work would start straight away (i.e. in December) on highways and accesses. Construction work would start in January, initially on non-agricultural land such as the Tholthorpe airfield. He also said the planning appeals on the refused roadside accesses at Kirby Sigston had now been upheld, i.e. NGC had won them, so the company was permitted to start on them. That is not the same as access over private land, however, which must be agreed by the landowner.

4. Radio York, talking to a landowner, had claimed every other landowner had signed up to the line except those at Rounton Gates. This misunderstanding recurs often. It's true the Rounton Gates wayleaves are the last ones for NGC to get, but the great majority of the others were only obtained as compulsory powers over objecting landowners, who refused to "sign up". I do wish reporters would get this right, as to suggest most landowners have "signed up" is offensive.

5. The Enron debacle continues to make the headlines. Enron are suing Dynegy for pulling out of its rescue deal. Radio 4 described hidden debts of 4 billion pounds in December set to become 8 billion by January. Ceefax p. 113 of 3 Dec reports 11 billion pound debts and the petition to a New York court for "Chapter 11" bankruptcy, which allows the firm to keep operating while its creditors sort out the debts. It seems all down to dishonesty, causing investors to lose confidence. No surprise to us, we remember reports of Tory Energy Minister John Wakeham consenting the TPL power station (with Enron its major owner) and later getting a seat on the Enron Board, Enron sponsoring the Labour Party conference and Labour consenting the NGC line which Enron wanted, and Enron being the largest sponsor of George W Bush's election (and his polluting energy policy). Not to mention Enron's devastating exploitative contract on an impoverished Indian state (news89.6). If Enron goes, good riddance to bad corruption! It is likely that the TPL power station will be sold as a going concern, but if it were to close, the case for NGC's line would collapse.

6. Though not in the same league as Enron, NGC is doing its bit for irresponsibility. Its Brazil adventures have brought its Latin American telecoms write-offs to 400 million pounds.

Text version including appendix

 

APPENDIX 1

Wayleave hearing 29.11.01 re. NGC line at Rounton Gates Summary of Evidence of M J O'Carroll 21.11.01

This summary mainly condenses my Proof of 2.10.01, Addendum of 13.10.01 and Second Addendum of 20.11.01. New or substantially reworded parts are in bold. I would respectfully ask that the Inspector reads and considers the whole of those documents and their appendices. 1. My personal background and qualifications are summarised in section 1 of my Proof of 2.10.01.

2 This evidence briefly addresses two things, need for the proposed line and health considerations.

3. Change in need for the Picton - Shipton line

3.1 The line which is the subject of these hearings is the proposed Picton - Shipton line. The need for it is a separate consideration from that for the whole Lackenby - Picton - Shipton line. It is possible for the Lackenby - Picton line to be teed in at Picton to the existing 400 kV line. It would in any case join up with this line at Picton, running on to the south, in NGC's proposals.

3.1A (from 1.4 of Addendum2) It is also possible, after connecting the new Lackenby-Picton line to the existing line going south from Picton, to abandon the proposed Picton-Shipton line. This would have the additional benefits of enabling the removal of the Norton-Picton existing line through Teesside (c.15km) and the existing spur from Thornton to Shipton around York (c.20km), relieving many dwellings of close visual and EMF intrusion.

3.2 The case for the Picton - Shipton line is based on security and stability. The existing grid has ample capacity. The essential security requirement is that, in the event of outage of both circuits of the existing 400 kV line, surplus power from the north east region can be transmitted south. This is only likely to happen once in seven years and then for less than a minute, without loss of power to consumers. Present arrangements for tripping at TPL power station provide adequate safeguards.

3.3 The key change since consent was given is the closure of both Blyth A and B power stations in Northumberland. Appendix 1 sets out the consequences. The security requirement is now satisfied, as was anticipated in the 1992 inquiries. However, stability requirements remain, although they would normally be solved by simpler measures than a long new 400 kV line.

3.3A (new material) Government policy for renewables and CHP is leading to more distributed smaller-scale generation, which, like distributed demand, can generally be absorbed by the present grid. Wind power on a very large scale would be an exception because it is intermittent and would be at the extremities of the grid system. Laughton and Spare [Energy World, Nov 1, 2001] warn that such developments would bring grid stability and quality control problems. Fundamental grid problems would point, firstly, to small-scale generation in areas of demand, and secondly, against remote large-scale renewables generating electricity for transmission. Instead, renewables might generate hydrogen or methane for piping, a better form of energy transmission.

3.4 While previously mooted major generation developments, Neptune and Flotilla, which would have added to the considerable surplus north of Picton, have been abandoned or deferred, other developments have been suggested: Eston (Conoco) and an interconnector from Norway. Flotilla remains transmission-contracted. These developments are speculative and not yet the subject of formal application. Like Neptune, which was also transmission-contracted, they may be abandoned.

3.4A (from 1.1 - 1.3 of Addendum2) Mooted developments should be considered with potential reductions in generation and other developments in transmission. The prospect of net growth in need for the Picton-Shipton line is at best very uncertain. There is a firm trend already under way towards distributed small-scale generation which will greatly reduce the need for transmission. I draw attention to particular paragraphs of references [1] and [2].

3.5 There is a strong sense of grievance at the consent decision, which was based on acceptance of a flawed case for need. Appendix 2, which was not available at the time of the 1992 or 1995 inquiries and was not provided to Secretary of State before the 1998 consent decision, identifies anomalies in NGC's claims and concludes that all of the problems may be cured without the need for any new transmission lines. That was even before the closure of Blyth.

3.6 While accepting need for some new line, the Inspectors at the 1992 inquiries also accepted that only a single-circuit line was needed, and that the choice between that and the double-circuit line was finely balanced. The closure of Blyth should tip that balance. It would be practical, while installing a new double-circuit line from Lackenby to join the existing line at Picton, with the benefit of removing the existing 275 kV Crathorne line, to reduce the new Picton - Shipton line to a single circuit. This would have the benefit of greatly reducing its impact in the wayleave areas under discussion.

3.7 Appendix 3 summarises the position on need as at March 2000, and anticipates the closure of Blyth. The possibility of abandoning the Picton - Shipton line, even though it has consent, remains rational, and the alternative possibility of reducing it to a single circuit would be consistent with the conclusions of the 1992 Inspectors, since closing Blyth tips the fine balance they observe.

Conclusions on need

3.8 (from 3.1 in my Second Addendum) Medium-term considerations, both of generation and of transmission, in the light of emerging government policy and of new technology, greatly change the picture relating to the Picton-Shipton line, in favour of abandoning or reducing it, since the previous inquiries and since Secretary of State's 1998 decision. Abandoning the Picton-Shipton line could bring significant further benefits in removing some 35 km of existing line in Teesside and around York.

4. Health considerations

4.1 While the demanding (and artificial) threshold for proof of a cause of ill effects has not been established to the satisfaction of most official agencies, important international authorities have designated residential exposure to powerline EMFs a possible human carcinogen. There is a firm statistical association with exposure above 0.4 (T, when the risk of childhood leukaemia is doubled. There is suggestive evidence of other ill effects. The grantors are therefore justified in their rational concerns.

4.2 Both of the affected farms and the cottages at Rounton Gates are all within slightly over 100 metres of the line as proposed in each of the three alternatives. The farms are to the east in the direction of the prevailing wind, and well within the 400 metres distance where ionised particle effects have been found. The direct exposure to EMFs would be significant at all of the properties.

4.2A New results continue to appear which reinforce the public health concerns. Paragraphs 1.1 - 1.3 of my Addendum give examples. They show biological effects, involving melatonin and tamoxifen, which are relevant to the concerns, not for the whole population but for certain subsets. These results do not by themselves prove causation of cancer, rather they show relevant bio-effects in certain susceptible subsets of the population. Other new results and work omitted in the NRPB Report are mentioned in paragraphs 2.1 - 2.3 of my Second Addendum. These results reinforce concerns about potential non-cancer and cancer effects.

4.2B (from 1.4 of my Addendum) Professor Henshaw [7] has reviewed the recent California Health Department report. The review is appended in order to show the systematic approach to assessing "confidence in causality", an approach sadly lacking in the Doll report and in the assessments of NGC, DTI and NRPB. However, in the wake of the BSE/CJD affair, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology encourages such an approach [10]. Notable points in Professor Henshaw's review include the table on page 2, addressing a range of harmful effects including non-cancer effects not addressed in the Doll report, and the emboldened words on pages 4, 5, 7 and at the foot of page 8. While the Statement for the General Public acknowledges there is a chance that EMFs have no effect at all, the California experts conclude that causation of childhood leukaemia is more than 50% likely, that is more likely than not. I would agree with that from my own readings of key papers.

4.3 The NRPB has been criticised, both for its EMF report earlier this year and for its failings in the related issue of mobile phones.

4.3A (from 1.5 of my Addendum) The Doll report has been criticised for its bias and spin and for omissions [8, 9]. Follow-up correspondence [10] between Sir Richard Doll and Alasdair Philips confirms NRPB's serious omission of not addressing precautionary policy. The position of NRPB therefore should not be taken as supporting the NGC's anti- precautionary stance. A new Appendix 4 is added herewith, with further observations on NRPB's shortcomings.

4.3B (from 1.6 of my Addendum) In a parallel consideration, the independent Stewart Report into mobile phones criticises the NRPB [11], and recommends a more reasonable approach to precaution. Policies for powerlines and mobile phones may be compared [12]. There is a gap in the NRPB's assessment of risk [13], specifically in assessing the credibility of causation and considering when precaution should be appropriate. The Stewart Report contrasts favourably with the Doll Report, and the California Report [see 7] takes a thorough systematic approach, with reference to "confidence in causality". I have been calling for this since 1995 [see 13], but the NRPB has used uncertainty as a mask for denial, and has by its omissions consistently blocked proper precaution.

4.4 It is not easy to see that health considerations favour any of the three routes proposed against the others. The genuine concerns nevertheless add to the case for deferring a decision pending a review of need for the line, or for a double-circuit line, and pending further research on health matters as called for by NRPB.

Conclusions on health issues

4.5 (from 2.1 of my Addendum) The basis of evidence for concern on health issues is gaining in strength, (a) in specific details such as the inhibition of melatonin and tamoxifen, (b) in international appraisals of the overall risk, now considered in important cases to be more likely than not, and (c) in the range of potential harmful effects for which there is respectable suggestive evidence.

4.6 (from 2.2 of my Addendum) The NRPB is seriously deficient in its considerations and its advice, and its lack of formal advice on precaution. The concerns of grantors in the present case are precisely about precaution in the face of uncertainty and rational grounds for suspicion. We do not claim that there is proof of any particular causal effect, merely that the evidence is sufficiently suggestive of potential harmful effects to cause concern and to warrant precaution, whereas NRPB dismisses evidence short of proof and eschews precaution.

4.7 (from 2.3 of my Addendum) Sir, you, like the NRPB and like others in DTI recently, are likely to come under political pressure to consider, not so much the genuine issues and concerns of the grantors, but the hypothetical effects of a precedent - a kind of reverse-scare- mongering. May I ask you also to consider the proven effects of denial and blocking precaution, against the balance of evidence, as were manifest in the BSE/CJD affair? Above all, integrity would seem to require that fairness and balance be placed above fear of precedent.

5. General conclusion

5.1 There are genuine and rational concerns, both about need for the line as proposed and about potential health effects on the grantors and other residents, based on the changing and new evidence not properly taken into account in the earlier consent or wayleave decisions.

5.2 The Inspector is respectfully asked to consider making recommendations for further review of the need for the line south of Picton before a decision is made on the wayleaves requested. This is with a view to proceeding with the Lackenby - Picton line and removing the Crathorne line, and either abandoning the Picton - Shipton line or reducing it to a single circuit.

Lists of appendices appear with the original Proof and Addenda.

Appendix 4 (MJOC Rountons Wayleave Hearings 29.11.01)

Further observations on NRPB (relating to correspondence between John Stather (NRPB) and Trentham Environmental Action Group).

Firstly, on the question of independence, I can imagine that people at NRPB may feel they offer impartial and objective advice from a position of independence. My assessment is that, notwithstanding good intentions, that is far from the case. There are levels of independence, just as there are levels of uncertainty and plausibility in the state of evidence - both of these gradations seem to escape NRPB's thinking.

Recently I led a complaints panel for a corporation of which I am a member. The corporation prides itself on the independence of its Clerk, appointed externally through a contract with a national law firm. That makes the Clerk more independent (and better supported legally) than one employed by the corporation under the control of the chief executive. The complainant however felt that the Clerk, who applies the complaints procedure, was not independent, as he works for the law firm who have a contractual interest in the corporation. I accepted that the measure of independence of the Clerk, while valuable to the corporation, was not 100%, and it was understandable that the complainant felt that the Clerk reflected the interests of the corporation.

That example illustrates that there are levels of independence. In the UK we do need impartial advice and assessment of hazards. An expert advisory body is a good idea. I note Susan Greenfield's recent move to develop a more general scientific advisory group, with strict avoidance of government funding. There are difficulties in achieving high levels of independence, especially in government-appointed bodies, which may be staffed by career civil servants with a strong and long-term personal career interest. Even bodies drawing from external experts acting part- time may benefit from variation of personnel and from supplementation by non-expert and public representatives - I am thinking of the Phillips Report on BSE and the earlier supplementation of SEAC which took place in the mid 1990s.

In my view NRPB, and AGNIR in particular, has demonstrated an inclination to dismiss concerns, perhaps over-zealously to avoid a health scare, although such zeal has historically been counter- productive. My critique (revolt news80 of 12.3.01) of the Doll II Report gave chapter and verse to show distortive language and spin to that effect. Alasdair Philips's critique also illustrates the point.

Three key issues which NRPB seems to overlook are human variability, information physics and precaution. In contrast the Stewart Report on mobile phones, structurally more independent than NRPB standing committees, was more aware of these issues and criticised NRPB.

The issue of human variability is eloquently described by Alasdair Philips, with a commendably grand concept of modern epidemiology as "safety for the susceptible". NRPB, by considering impacts only when diluted in the general population, are able to bolster their dismissive approach. They do seem to be looking for dismissal and not looking to identify impacts.

The issue of information physics goes beyond the very limited approach of NRPB (to non-ionising fields) which seems to be confined to coarse energy effects, either through induced macroscopic currents and thermal effects, which forms the sole basis of their guidance, or through the direct-hit effect on DNA at the molecular level, which enables NRPB to dismiss non-ionising radiation as "subtle effects", as described by AGNIR's physicist, Ted Grant. On the other hand information effects relate only to the energy required to store, transmit or interfere with information, which may be very low in terms of, for example, cell signalling or release of radicals from a weakly bonded caged configuration, as indicated in published research. The term "signal effects" may also be used, as mentioned by Alasdair Philips and Swiss Re. On this issue, NRPB and AGNIR seem to be out of touch with modern information physics, and, worse, prejudiced and blinkered by their old- fashioned view.

Much has been said about precaution in this field which I will not repeat. Some articles in NRPB's house magazine distorted and derided the idea of prudent avoidance, as if it were to block any development on the slenderest of concerns. That is unfair. The central point of the "prudence" is being commensurate. NRPB has not formally advised for or against precaution on this subject. That being so, ministers have dismissed precaution on the basis that "NRPB does not recommend" it. Further, this has been used to block any discretion on the part of local authorities. The main test comes with planning applications to build new houses under existing powerlines. Local authorities attempting to adopt a precautionary policy have been faced with National Grid's legal team objecting at public inquiries, with the effect that any acknowledgement of a health problem and any precautionary approach is expunged before or by Secretary of State's decision. This is rather sinister in my view.

On the now well established statistical association of residential exposure to powerline EMFs with childhood leukaemia, John Stather's letter says the result is not conclusive and selection bias and confounding may provide an alternative explanation. Firstly, the statistical association is confirmed, so the word "conclusive" might apply to it, though a causal effect is not proven to the high threshold required by many authorities, so the cause may be described as "not conclusive". Nevertheless, the California report (also reflecting other less precisely articlulated views) says the cause is "more than 50% likely", which means more likely than not. Secondly, selection bias is regarded, from an examination of the statistics, as unlikely to explain the whole effect. Thirdly, on confounding, steps have been taken in the research to check for and eliminate likely confounders; what remains is potentially some related effect, such as electric rather than magnetic fields, which leaves the same concern about the ill effects whatever the mechanism. In the light of the full context, John Stather's rounding off his paragraph saying "selection bias and confounding may also provide an alternative explanation" again comes over as dismissive rather than balanced and impartial. A fairer summary would be that it is possible, but unlikely, that the statistical association with leukaemia does not reflect a cause by exposure to magnetic fields. That then opens the question of precaution.

Mike O'Carroll

Text version including addendum

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