REVOLT News 168

31/08/2004

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1.  In response to some recent enquiries about the possible removal of
pylons in west Yarm, on Teesside, sadly I have to say it is unlikely. My
reply is at Appendix 1.
2.  Interesting development of household scale wind turbines (Appendix
2, passed on by Country Guardian). Revolt favours distributed generation
close to the point of consumption, and encourages small-scale renewable
developments like this.
3.  Erstwhile energy minister Brian Wilson became well known for his
frenetic promotion of large remote windfarms especially in Scotland's
highlands and islands, with his much publicised proposals for a major
transmission link to England under the Irish Sea. That undersea link has
now been quietly dropped, while some 200 miles of giant 400kV pylons are
planned from Ullapool through Beauly to Denny, across some of Scotland's
best scenery. His recent article for the Observer (Appendix 3) focuses
on the need for more indigenous energy supplies. I like the line "cheap
energy is fool's gold" though it should also apply to wind farms.
4.  Article from the Scotsman http://news.scotsman.com/scitech.cfm?id=982772004 >
Mon 23 Aug 2004 claims plans for the Ullapool-Beauly-Denny line have
been abandoned. Another article from the Sunday Times (Appendix 4) has a
similar story. A further report from the Press & Journal says that Defra
and DTI decline to comment. I am checking with DTI and with John
Rennilson (director of Planning & Development at Highland Council, well
known to revolt as former Chief Planning Officer at North Yorkshire CC).
Response so far suggests the articles are wrong and the Beauly - Denny
line remains a high priority although Western Isles to Ullapool to
Beauly seems to be more under debate. 
5. Elsevier's Encyclopedia of Energy, vol.5, 2004, includes a
substantial paper (pp 145 - 167) by Luther P Gerlach (University of
Minnesota) entitled "Public Reaction to Electricity Transmission Lines".
Luther had been in contact with me at some length in his preparations
and Revolt figures prominently in the paper, even though it spans
"Western industrial democracies" and especially the USA. He writes that
"opposition to electricity transmission lines is significant, organized,
and informed" and "The [Revolt web] site is linked to the sites of
transmission line opponents around the world. Revolt has been an
important node in the network of electricity transmission line
opposition and contributes ideas about change, which inform a
movement.". There are sections on need, size, utilities restructuring,
visual impact and EMF, and some nice comments on social behaviour. The
conclusion fairly summarises the organisation of and reasons for
opposing powerlines, ending with: "However, these groups might become
parts of a movement of change as they work to change the culture of
energy use as well as energy policy."
6.  News of the Orkney wave power success (Appendix 5) was doubly
welcome. Apart from having ancestors from Orkney, I recall colleagues in
the sixties working on wave power trials on Loch Ness, which I think was
before the Salter duck (the Edinburgh scientist's invention which
elegantly extracts all the energy from a pure wave). Real waves are very
impure, mixing size, frequency and direction, and being much less easily
tapped for energy, though it's worth pursuing. 
7.  The link between wind farm development and power lines is manifest
in Gippsland, Australia. National Grid's Basslink powerline from
Tasmania and its onward route through Victoria have been vigorously
opposed. A $220 million 52-turbine wind farm at Bald Hills recently
approved by the Bracks Government is exciting equally vigorous
opposition.
 http://www.abc.net.au/gippsland/news/200408/s1184809.htm 
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APPENDIX 1  West Yarm pylons.
Sorry to say that there is no sign of the pylons being removed. Revolt
has campaigned for their removal on the basis that the new line
connection from Lackenby via Picton to Osbaldwick (York) is adequate to
meet present needs. 
However government energy policy places excessive reliance on developing
wind farms in Scotland to serve electricity needs in London and south
west England. Such a policy is fundamentally flawed in engineering and
economic terms, as explained for example by the Royal Academy of
Engineering, but the government is reluctant to recognise this. The wind
farm policy will place great strains on the grid and require many more
pylons (to the tune of 2 billion pounds). Therefore it is unlikely that
the west Yarm pylons will now be removed.
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APPENDIX 2   Small-scale wind turbines
>From Infrastructure Journal
20th August 2004 - Turbine revolution as Scottish firm closes in on
power
supply agreement 
Scottish firm Renewable Devices - the manufacturer of revolutionary
vibration-free,
roof-mounted wind turbines that are all but silent - is days away from
securing a
UK-wide supply agreement with a major utility.
The turbines - which were the subject of a Scottish Executive backed
trial earlier in
the year (IJ News, 20 May 2004) - generate 4,500KW hours per year and
provide up
to a third of the average household's energy requirements.
Dave Anderson, a director of the Edinburgh-based company, told IJ News
that the
deal slashes the manufacturing cost of the turbines, making it a more
viable
proposition for home owners. 
The turbines will contribute to renewable obligations by reducing demand
on the
national grid and helping Scotland hit its self-imposed target of 40 per
cent of
electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
'The future looks incredibly rosy,' said Anderson. 'We are talking to a
couple of the
big energy utilities and are days away from signing a supply agreement.
The utility
will supply the sales marketing infrastructure and route to market that
we, as a
relatively small company, cannot.'
Development of the units has been financed through a combination of a
150,000
grant from the DTI and by money raised through Renewable Resources'
renewable
energy consultancy practice. 
Anderson said that Renewable Devices plans to ramp up production to
several
thousand units over the next two years which will slash the cost of an
installed
turbine from a prohibitive 10,000 to around 1,500 per unit. 
When asked if the individual household or the utility partner would pay
for the turbine
and its installation, Anderson said: 'That is confidential at the
moment, but it may well
be a bit of both.'
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Appendix 3   Brian Wilson's article in the Observer
The Observer  Sunday August 8, 2004
Power supply cannot be left to the market 
We are becoming too dependent on volatile imports, argues former energy
minister Brian Wilson 
'The days of cheap energy in the UK are coming to an end,' says Phil
Bentley, financial
director of Centrica. 
There is no reason to disbelieve him. Indeed 'cheap energy' policies are
a mirage. It is a basic
law of economics that what goes down also comes up, usually sooner
rather than later.
Politicians do not get much credit when utility bills are falling, or at
least rising by less than
inflation. But when they start to rebound, as Centrica and others now
say is inevitable, the
public does not necessarily blame only market forces. 
The gas and electricity regulator, Ofgem, is ideologically in thrall to
achieving the lowest
possible prices for the consumer. This is an extremely short-term
approach which
subordinates other government objectives of at least equal importance.
There was also more
than a touch of emperor's clothes to the magical success of driving down
prices in an
over-supplied market. 
This over-capacity was a legacy from the old state-run systems, when it
was regarded as a
virtue to produce more electricity than the nation was likely to
consume. This produced
security of supply in a non-competitive environment. Only in the brave
new world of competition
did over-capacity became a badge of inefficiency rather than prudence,
and non-viable
generators go to the wall. 
The most conspicuous victim was British Energy, our leading nuclear
generator. British
Energy, as its shareholders are beginning to note, is now doing rather
well because of the
recovery in electricity prices. This confirms that the major factor in
its crisis - the unsustainably
low price of generated electricity - was a temporary phenomenon. The
bill for more expensive
electricity, which consumers were not asked to pay for around two years,
was passed instead
to taxpayers in the form of a bail-out for BE, which will last for
decades. 
Another problem with a purely market-driven approach is its blindness to
environmental virtue.
It makes more sense under Ofgem's regime to bring dirty generation out
of mothballs to meet
demand than it does to invest in clean new plant. The wholesale price of
electricity must take
greater account of the increasingly desperate need for investment in
clean generating capacity.
But that approach - which would also bring relief to the beleaguered
power manufacturing
sector - is incompatible with a 'cheapest is best' preoccupation. 
The classic example of how a hostile - or at best indifferent -
regulatory regime can work
against other stated government objectives lies in the Combined Heat and
Power sector. It is
often forgotten that government targets for CHP are more ambitious than
for higher-profile
renewables. In reality however, CHP has been in decline over the past
few years, caught in a
ratchet of low electricity and high gas prices. As with renewables,
setting targets is the easy
bit - there then has to be action to ensure 'the market' does not make
them unachievable. 
So as we move into an era where 'the days of cheap energy are coming to
an end', what are
the implications for UK policy? I would argue that the biggest danger
comes from the proposed
dependence, to an extraordinary degree, on imported gas - one of the
most volatile factors in
recent price movements. Indeed, Centrica is predicting it will cost it
50 per cent more to buy
gas over the next two years. Flashing red warning signs do not come much
brighter. 
On current projections, 70 per cent of our electricity generation will
come from gas by 2020.
Ninety per cent of that will be imported from areas such as Siberia, the
Caspian Sea, North
Africa and the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. No matter what happens
now, we are going
to become hugely more dependent on imported gas at the time when our own
North Sea
resources - which led to the short-term dash for gas in the first place
- are in sharp decline. By
2006, we will become a net importer of gas. 
The market is already responding with large-scale investment and long-
term contracts.
Centrica has indicated its plans to build an LNG (liquid natural gas)
terminal to ship gas to the
UK and similar projects are sprouting around our coastline. Similarly, a
number of major
pipeline concepts will bring gas to Western Europe and, by inter-
connector, to the UK. 
So my concern is not one of absolutes but of degrees. Of course we will
need imported gas,
and of course the market will respond. But does it make sense to become
so dependent on
one price-volatile source of energy? 
My own firm view is that our future dependence on imported gas should be
tempered by an
all-out effort to maximise our indigenous energy potential - nuclear,
clean coal and renewables
as well as maximising production from whatever is left in the North Sea. 
Thinking environmentalists such as James Lovelock are already crossing
the psychological
barrier that sees nuclear power as an implacable enemy. More rational
assessment suggests
it is actually the other side of the same carbon-reduction coin as
renewables. Similarly, we will
continue to turn our back on coal at our peril. We still have lots of
the stuff under our feet and,
globally, more can be achieved for carbon reduction by cleaning up coal
plants than will ever
come from renewables. As a bonus, British companies could be selling the
technology to the
world. 
Security of energy supply is too important to be left to the market and
too political to be left to
an unelected regulator. Nobody will blame a regulator if the lights go
out or prices go through
the roof. They will, very properly, hold responsible the politicians who
led them to believe in the
sustainability of cheap energy and the wisdom of gas dependence.
Affordability of energy
supply is crucial to a successful economy, but 'cheap energy' is fool's
gold. 
 Brian Wilson MP was Energy Minister from 2001 to 2003 and is currently
the Prime
Minister's Special Representative on Overseas Trade
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Appendix 4. Sunday Times article on Beauly-Denny line.
THE SUNDAY TIMES 
August 22, 2004 
Protesters halt march of the pylons
Neil Rafferty
THE government is set to abandon plans to erect electricity pylons
through a 200-mile corridor of Scottish countryside following outrage
from protesters including Gabby Logan, the sports presenter, and her
rugby-playing husband, Kenny. 
The 300m scheme would have carried electricity from wind farms on the
Western Isles to Ullapool via underwater cables. From there the power
would have been carried to Beauly in Inverness-shire and then on to
Denny in Stirlingshire by overground cables, where it would have fed
into the national grid. 
Ministers are now looking at alternatives, including the possibility of
carrying the electricity underground to Skye. 
The proposal, which would cost an additional 150m, has the backing of
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader and MP for Ross, Skye and
Inverness West. 
Another option being considered is to bury part of the transmission line
from Beauly to Denny, but Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), the
electricity company, has said that underground cables are up to 25 times
more expensive than overhead lines. 
The scheme forms part of the government plan to increase the amount of
power from renewable sources. Ministers have been forced into a rethink
after widespread opposition to wind farms and have now switched their
attention to wave and bio-mass power stations. 
Concerns are also growing over the pylons needed to carry electricity
from remote parts of the Highlands and the Borders. 
"They are noisy, they give off radiation and they are going to spoil the
countryside," said Kenny Logan, whose farm stands in the shadow of the
Wallace Monument near Stirling. 
"There is also a big health issue associated with these pylons. The
research is unclear, suggesting the risk is 50/50, but you don't put
something like that in the countryside if the odds are that high. 
"It is coming right through my land and lot of other farmers' land, but
we are sticking together. They can try and offer us money but it will
not do any good. They have not got a proper plan in place for our power
needs. Scotland is not about wind farms, it is about fantastic
countryside." 
Sue Hopkinson, of the protest group Highland Before Pylons, said: "We
have only been allowed to examine one set of proposals. Everybody
thought that wind power was such a clean and friendly thing, but there
is a cost to the landscape." 
David Bellamy, the television naturalist, has backed the anti-pylon
campaign and is due to visit the Western Isles and Ullapool next month. 
The Beauly to Denny line would cross some of the most spectacular and
popular beauty spots in the Highlands and threaten woodland dating back
to the Ice Age. 
The European Union is committed to increasing the share of electricity
from renewable sources to 22% by 2010. Scotland's wind potential has
prompted the executive to set a target of 40% by 2020. 
"We want to find an acceptable route for an overhead line," said Alan
Young, director of communications for SSE. "In situations where an
exceptionally high value is placed on visual amenity, we will consider
laying underground cables. 
"But underground cabling requires work on the scale of motorway
construction and there are serious concerns about the environmental
effects." 
Last week Highland councillors agreed to commission an independent study
into the costs of running proposed power lines underground, claiming
they were sceptical about estimates. SSE has quoted 20m a kilometre
compared with 800,000 a kilometre for an overhead line. 
Supporters of underground cabling point to Canada, where changes have
been made to reduce the risk of cables breaking in harsh winters. They
claim one big breakdown in Scotland would cost consumers far more than
the cost of underground cabling.
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APPENDIX  5    Success for Orkney wave power.
Press and Journal: 
FIRST WEEK SUCCESS FOR WAVE POWER TEST 
09:00 - 24 August 2004 
Electricity generated by wave power in Orkney has completed its first
week of being plugged
into the national grid. 
Pelamis, the world's first commercial-scale floating wave energy
converter, was installed by
Ocean Power Delivery at the newly opened European Marine Energy Centre.
The success of the test machine was welcomed by environmentalists who
said they hoped it
would the first of many wave power stations in Scotland.
Dan Barlow, head of research at Friends of the Earth, said: "This is
fantastic news. The UK's
coastline has huge potential for wave and tidal power which could help
reduce our reliance on
polluting fossil fuel and hazardous nuclear plants."
Green Party MSP Shiona Baird said the firm deserved to be congratulated
but warned that the
UK could miss out in becoming a leader in the technology worldwide if
Westminster did not
release more money.
She said only by tripling funding to 150million would help ensure that
the first commercial
wave farm is built, designed and installed in Scotland.
"With 7,000 jobs potentially available for Scots, the least we can do is
make sure Scotland
stands the best chance of getting them."
The Pelamis system, designed over the past six years, has a rated power
output of 750kW. Its
electricity generation is expected to be sufficient to meet the annual
needs of over 500 UK
households.
The European Marine Energy Centre is based off Billia Croo, on the
Orkney mainland.
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--
Mike O'Carroll

 

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