Local Issues: some background reading

Half of the pylons in this picture could be 

about to get bigger - much bigger!

But it doesn’t have to be that way. National Grid also want to add a huge humming sub station to this quiet corner of north Essex. It doesn’t have to be that way either. The question is, would you realise this from National Grid’s current public consultation events? 

If you plan to attend one of these events, then the following points are offered to broaden your understanding of the issues surrounding National Grid’s proposals. So please read on for some alternative ideas that might just solve the issues National Grid are trying to address, solving them in an economic and timely fashion that does not despoil our countryside.

There are numerous issues you might like to consider before attending one of National Grid's coming consultation events. Sadly, what follows is by no means a comprehensive list and is in addition to the matter of National Grid's reneging on their commitment with respect to the non removal of redundant pylons in or near our villages. That issue was more fully covered in recent local press articles as well as in our July newsletter which is available by clicking here.

The issues we want to present break down into a few categories:-

The untimeliness of the corridor decision

•The current corridor decision is premature and has been made in the absence of final output from the undergrounding costing research for the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) by IET/KEMA.

•The current decision was made before NG's own undergrounding policy was/is been finalised.

•The latest National Policy Statements for Energy ( which govern the decision on NG's planning application for more pylons) passed through the House of Commons recently only for many commentators to observe that some aspects would need immediate revision because they contain, amongst other flaws, factual errors. The ministers at the DECC must know they are inadequate already!

•The current decision has been made before a current 10 minute rule bill has passed through Parliament, a bill that would substantively take the statutory preference for overhead power transmission away and would make way for more environmentally preferable technologies to be used.

Undergrounding the proposed Connection

•Undergrounding of part of the route chosen seems likely with the Dedham Vale AONB and possibly the Stour Valley being undergrounded. This makes a totally underground Gas Insulated Line (GIL) transmission solution from Siemens more economic when considered across its whole life.

•A totally underground solution would not require a sub station

•A totally underground solution avoids all nimby issues

•A totally underground solution is affordable

•Underground is the secure place to put this connection. Overhead lines are vulnerable to our increasingly volatile climate and a storm that brought the proposed transmission system in our valleys down would potentially disconnect the UK from over 30% of its total electricity supply.

•Underground is also more secure in the sense that is is less vulnerable to threat from malevolent forces, an issue not missed by our national security services who view out electricity infrastructure as highly vulnerable to attack.

The Affordability of the Solutions we Advocate and Willingness to Pay

•Current "willingness to pay" research by NG is on-going but is strategically poor in design. Willingness to pay is in fact a no-brainer (to use NG's CEO's parlance) because the total cost to each and every householder per year for undergroundingallof the NG proposed overhead lines in the UK is less than £5! Recent energy price rises utterly dwarf this and make it a remarkably small price to pay. In fact it's a bargain! The sub £5 figure is NG's own.

•National Grid's PR consultant stated on the day the corridor announcement was made that "affordability" is not an issue for this consultation - surely it is pivotal?

The Underground Transmission Technology we Advocate

•Gas Insulatedunderground powerLines(GIL) have been advocated as an economic, low environmental impact electricity transmission technology by pressure groups across the UK for over a year and yet only now have National Grid started to look at it properly - they are therefore under informed on current though established technology.

•GIL underground transmission has been running faultlessly for three decades in Germany - it is a proven technology both there and elsewhere around the world.

•Siemens have publicly stated that they can definitely deliver the required (NG Specified) capacity GIL transmission system for the Bramford - Twinstead connection and have even offered to manufacture GIL in the UK.

•National Grid's current GIL underground costs, as presented in their latest consultation documents suggest much higher trenching and installation costs than those for the water industry for the same sized task - why?

The Proposed Sub Station: a matter that affects all of the Essex villages in NG's "Consultation Area"

•The current sites under consideration for a sub station in Essex are limited because NG want easy road access. Given the overall investment being made, other sites away from habitation or already blighted (e.g. Rushley Green?) should be considered to include a dedicated access road as part of the project.

•The bridges and roads that give access to this area of Essex are not able to withstand the weight of the required 165 ton transformers which will have to be delivered complete to the site.

•One NG identified possible sub station site is on a flood plane and would require installation on stilts to render it safe from flooding with all the visual amenity detriment that would go with that.

•A sub station would hum loudly and constantly at 100hz, a frequency that is difficult to attenuate and a sound that would permeate this notably quiet area of Essex.

•Any sub station would need to have all reasonable measures taken to mitigate this including mounting the transformers to acoustically isolate them from the ground.

•A last interesting thought:- If an underground connection was used, a substation with an underground 400kV feed in, and overhead 132kV output would be smaller than the current one as proposed by National Grid. Such a strategy would allow the entire 132kV line to be removed providing the highest level of environmental detriment reduction between Bramford and Twinstead without any notable increase in project cost. There is however a problem with this - NG do not own the 132kV line and neither they nor UK Power Networks seem willing to remove redundant pylons from our countryside - shame on them!

But the key point is this:-

If the Bramford - Twinstead connection is achieved by installing underground GIL, the result will be the most economic and cost effective one across its lifetime and will remove the need for a substation completely. It is therefore the only solution that is deliverable within the timescales brought about by the prospective building of the East Anglia 1 (Round 3) windfarm and to which every one of us can sign up because it delivers what everyone wants:- economic, reliable energy transmission at minimal negative environmental impact. And its affordable, indeed it's a bargain!

Does arguing for undergrounding and no sub station make us nimbies?

We are not alone. The GIL underground transmission technology advocated above must surely be the choice for another Anglia 1 Windfarm related project which would put a power line across or beside a National Park,andan AONB,andthrough an area who's economy is majorly based on tourism and the natural beauty of its low relief landscape - the Waveny Valley, part of the Broads on the north Suffolk border. NG therefore HAVE to get their head around GIL and move their thinking into the 21st century.

Thus it is not just for ourselves we must press the case for underground electricity transmission.