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Topic Title: Public opinion and power lines, and some ill-informed MPs
Topic Summary: MPs clearly do not understand the issues regarding burying parts of a 400kV power line
Created On: 30 August 2013 02:45 PM
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 30 August 2013 02:45 PM
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In the usually quiet corner of Suffolk in which I live, a battle seems to be raging between necessity and naivety, regarding the construction of a power line. This centres on National Grid's requirement to build an additional 400kV grid line between Bramford (west of Ipswich) and Twinstead (south of Sudbury) across an area of relatively unspoilt Suffolk countryside.

This has naturally been greeted with protests and posters ("Bury not Blight", and "No More Power Lines"), a natural enough reaction at the prospect of a line of 150 foot high pylons marching across the view from your windows. I don't live in the affected area, but I do cycle around it frequently and I fully understand the need to conserve the visual landscape whenever we can.

However I also live in a world that seems to have an insatiable desire for power, and like almost everyone else, I am dependent on the reliabilty of the electricty generation and supply system. It is therefore a matter of much concern to me that there seems to have been no informed debate in the local media, and worse still, our local MPs seem to be remarkably ignorant (or perhaps they choose to simply support the popular vote) on the choices that we are faced with regarding electricity distribution.

For its part, National Grid published a balanced and informative paper on its web site, explaining the relative costs of overhead versus underground distribution in the 400kV network. It is abundantly clear from this that, whilst it is possible to bury small parts of the network, it is incredibly expensive (around 16 times the cost of a pylon route), it takes far more land (as nothing can be built on our near the buried cables), the reliability of buried cables is not as good as pylons, but I feel that the 'killer' is the time to repair a fault. This is stated to be 24 hours for an overhead line and 30 days for a buried cable!
Clearly, there is no way that it would be possible to place large parts of the 400kV network underground, without compromising the reliability of the Nation's electricity supply, and yet two of our local MPs (and maybe others, I have not checked) have made their opposition to further overhead lines very clear. The web pages of my own MP Dr Dan Poulter (MP for North Ipswich and Central Suffolk), a GP by profession, say "Dan has always made clear his strong opposition to any more overground electricity pylons being installed in the beautiful Suffolk countryside and believes that any new power cables must be buried underground or placed offshore as a matter of principle."

Even more worrying to my mind, is Tim Yeo (the chairman of the Commons energy committee) who has also been a vociferous critic of National Grid's plans for the Bramford to Twinstead line. He, of all people, should surely be well enough informed to strike a balanced view.

My background is not in electricity generation or distribution but I strongly believe that the IET needs to take steps to ensure that all our Members of Parliament understand sufficiently the issues regarding power distribution. I have previously attempted to find and contact those within our organisation who are better informed than I, and those who have contacts with our MPs but I have not so far succeeded.

Would anyone care to comment on this and perhaps to suggest a way to engage the IET with our MPs on this issue?
 30 August 2013 03:27 PM
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Keith, Thanks for such a thoughtful piece. It is, unfortunately, in the nature of politicians to listen to those who shout loudest, and the only real answer is for people like you to write to your MP, and get others to do so.
Actually, it is possible that the pylons could be a tourist draw. They may well be the new design, and there are a fair number of people (particularly in the IET), who would go out of their way to see them in reality. Perhaps you could get the local hostelries to offer special visits, and so counter the NIMBY's.
There is a possibility that really big transmission could go back underground. See But I fear not in time for your particular line.

David Hirst
 30 August 2013 04:37 PM
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The IET was instrumental in the publication of the Electricity Transmission Costing Study (see in February 2012. The aim of the study was to provide benchmarks for the costs of the various technologies and the report has been used by the planning authorities. The IET used the launch of the report to discuss the issue with MPs and Peers at an event in Parliament organised with the Energy Select Committee. The debate was at times quite lively but most said they found it informative.

The IET's work has clarified the costing/technology argument, leaving the politicians to debate the value proposition - is the view/ environment/ tourism economy "worth" the additional expense of undergrounding and are people prepared to pay the price via higher bills? MPs are elected to represent their constituents and as David Hirst suggests, they respond to the constituents who contact them.
I don't remember any MP (or anyone else) arguing that a proposed transmission link was not required, just that they should be buried.

Paul Davies
Manager, Policy Dept.
Institution of Engineering and Technology.
 31 August 2013 10:30 AM
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From what I can gather, this 25 mile stretch of ugly new pylons is being built at great environmental and financial cost purely to carry the intermittent output from offshore wind subsidy farms. So here yet again we see our countryside being ruined and yet more costs being added to our energy bills, all in the name of 'saving the planet' from man-made-global warming. Despite the fact there's been no warming this century. Despite the fact that windfarms do not reduce CO2 since they require 100% conventional backup. Despite the fact the annual increase in Chinese CO2 is greater than the entire UK CO2 output. Despite the fact the UK only contributes a tiny 0.1% of total natural CO2 emssions. Despite the fact we're sitting on 100 years worth of cheap, low-carbon shale gas which could be used to halve conventional generation CO2 emssions at a stroke.

The IET should be speaking out against this lunacy. Instead they're the biggest cheerleaders for it. Truely sickening.
 03 September 2013 07:56 PM
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Thank you, Paul, I will read the Electricity Transmission Costing Study. As I said in my original post, energy generation and transmission is not my field (telecoms) and I had not found this study. I want to have a clear understanding of the issues.
Keith Halton.
 03 September 2013 09:59 PM
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Does anyone know if grid have looked at voltages over 400kV. A second twin circuit line would double capacity, the same Capacity could theoreticaly be archived with higher voltage on the existing route without extra lines ....... Clearances etc would need increasing and esqcr would need changing. I dare say that corona losses would increase but there must be an economic balance at some point. I know that higher voltages are used in other countries but I have never seen anything to suggest that 400kV is optimal for the UK?

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