Power play to stop the py­lons

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

THE in­com­pa­ra­ble Lake District has been saved from an in­tru­sive line of elec­tric­ity py­lons that threat­ened to march more than 14 miles across some of the loveli­est coun­try­side of Eng­land. Na­tional Grid should be con­grat­u­lated for hav­ing agreed to put its ca­bles un­der­ground and to re­move a num­ber of ex­ist­ing py­lons so that Wordsworth’s coun­try can be free of py­lons for the first time for 50 years—al­though the ben­e­fit stops 32ft out­side the na­tional park boundary.

There are 4,475 miles of power lines run­ning over the UK, of which 870 are un­der­ground. Al­ready, we ac­cept as nor­mal the most ex­pen­sive of un­der­ground works—those in ur­ban ar­eas— how­ever, in gen­eral, power lines are strung be­tween py­lons rather than hid­den be­low ground be­cause of the hor­ren­dous cost dif­fer­ence. That can be any­thing be­tween four and 14 times as much—a real is­sue in any­one’s eco­nomics. How­ever, there is still a de­bate when­ever new py­lons are pro­posed and there has even been some ef­fort to re­move the worst of the ex­ist­ing eye­sores. Last year, Na­tional Grid pro­duced a £500 mil­lion scheme that re­placed 45 py­lons in the most pre­cious of our land­scapes in Snow­do­nia, Dorset, the New For­est and the Peak District.

That was a lot of money to achieve a rel­a­tively small in­road into a huge in­her­i­tance of badly planned py­lons and there’s very lit­tle chance of any­thing more rad­i­cal in the fu­ture. We’re pretty much stuck with the py­lons we have and so, as the Na­tional Grid is now propos­ing big schemes across some of our most beau­ti­ful coun­try­side, the real ques­tion is not about the past, but about the fu­ture. How much dam­age are we pre­pared to do in or­der to keep the lights on? What price do we put on the Welsh hill coun­try or the Scot­tish High­lands, let alone the softer and more sub­tle English ru­ral scene?

All the signs are that elec­tric­ity prices will rise over the com­ing decade. In­creased ef­fi­ciency of our equip­ment, smart me­ter­ing and smart grids should counter much of that. The ad­di­tional costs we add to bills to pay for the nec­es­sary de­car­bon­i­sa­tion of elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion does gen­uinely seem to be cov­ered by the ef­fi­ciency sav­ings now avail­able, not least from the de­ploy­ment of LED light­ing, the sav­ings from ef­fec­tive heat­ing con­trols such as Nest and Hive and the much lower power de­mands of mod­ern wash­ers and dry­ers, ket­tles and vac­uum clean­ers. Nonethe­less, bur­den­ing bills with the long-term cost of un­der­ground­ing is not some­thing to be un­der­taken lightly. We have to re­mem­ber that just re­mov­ing those 45 py­lons will cost ev­ery con­sumer 22p a year for the next 40 years.

How­ever, im­por­tant new power lines are needed, not least to link up with off­shore wind and the in­ter­con­nec­tors we hope to build with Nor­way and the rest of Europe. These are bound to cross un­spoilt coun­try­side and coun­try­men and their al­lies are al­ready out there de­fend­ing their her­itage. How­ever, if we’re to get the right bal­ance be­tween cost and dam­age, we need to be very dis­ci­plined. It is sim­ply not fea­si­ble to ex­pect all to go un­der­ground. We need to iden­tify clearly the best routes and the parts of those routes that must be pro­tected from py­lons.

This will re­quire much more open­ness from Na­tional Grid and will also need an ur­gent change in the law. Plan­ning con­sent for power lines is di­vorced from that for the gen­er­at­ing sta­tions they serve. We need joined-up think­ing and joined-up cost­ing so they cause the least dam­age to the coun­try­side at the low­est cost. Only through proper de­ci­sion-mak­ing can we pro­tect our her­itage in a way we can af­ford.

Only through proper de­ci­sion­mak­ing can we pro­tect our her­itage’

Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

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