Looking across the Stour Valley from Cornard Tye.
Much has happened since I last wrote to you about the “dreaded” pylons. National Grid’s decision on its preferred corridor has been put back until the late spring, over a year since the date originally planned. We would like to think that this has been due, in part, to the work put in by the opposition group formed by Stour Valley Underground, your Association, Dedham Vale Society and Bury not Blight. Recently, we have been joined by CPR Essex and The Suffolk Preservation Society, giving us even greater influence in opposing all overhead pylons across any of the four corridors. Both Suffolk and Essex County Councils have also, at last, realised that the threat to both counties is not just from an extra power line from Bramford to Twinstead, important though this is.
I do not propose to go into all we have sought to do on your behalf during the previous year in challenging many of National Grid’s assumptions for requiring this additional overhead line (liaising with other opposition groups elsewhere and attending meetings with the National Grid, politicians and specialists, both locally and in London), but rather concentrate on the current position. There is undoubtedly considerable Government pressure for much more “green” electricity. Although the date for the nuclear power station, Sizewell C, has
slipped by several years, there is to be a vast offshore wind farm off East Anglia; Round 3 eventually generating twice as much as Sizewell C, with the first 1.2 GW planned to come on shore and connect to the Grid at Bramford by 2015. If this is to happen, then, with the additional power generated by the new gas-powered stations in Norfolk and Lincolnshire, there will likely be a need for additional capacity between Bramford and Twinstead, beyond that achieved from reconductoring the existing lines.
Offshore wind farms are planned all around the UK. The ideal solution is to integrate these via an undersea Supergrid, transmitting electricity around the coast, with connection nodes taking power direct to the main centres of consumption (in our case London), and not (as the current regulatory system caters for) by connecting each separate wind farm to the nearest connection point to the Grid, as and when each comes on stream. Although both the British Government and the European Commission are signed up to an eventual Supergrid, and the technology will be there, the difficult issue for us is whether there is sufficient political impetus to get this started in time. Those interested in the concept can visit “Friends of the Supergrid” web-site.
All possible short-term measures to avoid the capacity constraints between Bramford and Twinstead, before the Supergrid becomes a reality, are being explored, such as re-routing the electricity from the first stage of Round 3 down to Bradwell and on to the Grid at Rayleigh.
There is now a growing movement in many parts of the UK against pylons. People have begun to realise that these issues are not isolated, as National Grid wanted to portray them. There is now seen to be a threat to the Waveney Valley, if National Grid were to be allowed to bring power from the more northern part of Round 3 into Lowestoft. Other important environmental areas of England are also now seen to be under threat.
If National Grid pursues the corridor route, every effort will need to be made to force them to lay the cables underground. We are awaiting an independent Government commissioned report on the true cost of undergrounding, having attended a meeting in London, convened by KEMA, at which various technical papers were delivered. It is believed that the true cost of undergrounding in countryside, such as here in East Anglia, although substantial, will be shown to be significantly less than that portrayed by National Grid, and that if National Grid were to select and have to underground the route traversing the AONB, the incremental cost in undergrounding the remainder could be even less. These costs will likely fall further with new technology.
A major difficulty facing us, however, is the failure of the DECC, so far, to require that an environmental detriment cost analysis should be taken into account in the decision making process, and to make it easier for National Grid to recover this cost. If looked at from the point of view of society’s “willingness to pay” to avoid loss of amenity, the cost of undergrounding even across much larger parts of the UK would have a minimal effect on consumers’ electricity costs. The Government must see that there is an environmental detriment from the visual invasion of such things as pylons, as can be seen by the extent to which it is willing to provide much greater subsidies for offshore wind turbines as compared to onshore. This additional subsidy is of a similar order to the costs of undergrounding today.
There will, for sure, be further developments by the time of the Annual General Meeting, on which I can then update you. Meanwhile, you may rest assured that we are doing all that we can to oppose any further pylons, and that within the amenity group there is a wide variety of required expertise that we can draw upon. Even so, we will be assisted if members put pressure on their local County Councillors to ensure that everything possible is being done to coordinate effective Local Authority opposition across the whole of East Anglia.