Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Balancing of Power

Yesterday the Scottish government gave the go-ahead for the upgrade of the 137 power line between Beauly, near Inverness and Denny in Stirlingshire.

It is said the upgrade is vital for the future of renewables in Scotland, as it will take power from green energy developments in the Highlands and Islands to markets in the south.

Enterprise Minister, Jim Mather immediately came under fire for his 'vagueness' from political opponents who raised concerns that the conditions of 'visual impact mitigation' measures he had included in his decision would further delay the project, which has already taken eight years to process. It has been the longest planning enquiry in Scottish history.

The power line passes through some of Scotland's most scenic areas and, during the consultation period, the plan received 18,000 objections.

Some of the objections I found rather nonsensical as pylons already run through scenic parts of Scotland. Indeed the replacement pylons, some up to 217 feet high, will be far larger than those which presently cross the landscape but, after listening to Jim Mather on Newnicht tonight, I understand there will be fewer of them.

It's not going to be plain sailing for the power companies, (Scottish and Southern Energy and Scottish Power), even though permission has been granted. They still have to produce plans which will comply with the set conditions and the John Muir Trust, a prominent conservation charity, has said it would go to court to stop the development.

Dare I voice my opinion? If this new power line secures a steadfast provision of electricity for all of Scotland for the foreseeable future I'm all for it. The objection that it will affect tourism is ridiculous unless people are suggesting tourists don't understand the necessity for countries to have energy supplies. Yes, it may have been possible to place the cables underground but, from reading both sides of the dispute, underground cabling also has its problems.

What does trouble me is the closeness of any pylon to communities. I'm not convinced there is no relation between the high level of electromagnetic radiation from pylons and certain cancers.

Finally, is this upgraded power line going to reduce the cost of my electricity? I don't think I need three guesses for the answer to that. The south of England will possibly continue to pay less for electricity created in Scotland. They do at present.


Vronsky said...

A few years ago while walking in the Cotswolds it suddenly struck me that there were no overhead power lines - none at all. I knew from talking to locals that Lord Somebody-or-other owned all the land, and set very tight guidelines on what was permitted by way of development - hence the bijou nature of all the villages, and the total absence of camping and caravan sites (inconvenient to me, as I was camping).

On the one hand, our renewables are going to come from parts of the country remote from the majority of the consumers in the cities, so extension of the grid is unavoidable - but is the failure to underground these lines just a lack of will? Why not at least have a plan for phased undergrounding, to commence in better economic times (independence)?

subrosa said...

When listening to Jim Mather on Newnight he said the Scottish government could not insist power was put underground but he could ask for them to be hidden as much as possible.

Of course we both know the real reason it's not going underground. Can't have the power companies spending more money than they have to can we?

Andrew said...

I'm waiting for Ian MacMillan to go public congratulating the SNP Govt for this boost to industry and the private sector.....

Dean MacKinnon-Thomson said...

Good post Subrosa!

I also blogged on this, but as I am firmly against this powerline being built IN THIS FORM I have to say I was very disapointed by Mather for supporting this overland construction.

Now, saying that I understand that some experts have said that undersea lines might not be as economically or efficient beneficial..but from a countryside lovers view..I am so very disapointed.

My poor Stirlingshire... I could weep.


subrosa said...

Andrew, somehow I think you'll have a long wait. The man detests the SNP and everything it stands for.

Of course he'll be privately dancing with joy about this.

Quiet_Man said...

A lot of my electricity comes from Kingsnorth power station or Dungeness nuclear plant. Excess at times is supplied from France by the dc link. As far as I know, I don't get any power from Scotland.

How could I tell anyway, it's still too expensive what with the green tax levy on it.

Sue said...

I don't understand why the powerlines cannot be buried. There's nothing worse than seeing pylons in beautiful British countryside.

My friend used to live near a pylon and you could hear the fizzle from the cables when it rained. They had to move in the end as it was causing the whole family to have headaches!

They don't care about people, just profit...

subrosa said...

Dean, I've not been keeping such a close eye on this project as, to be honest, it doesn't affect me. Yes, selfish I know.

But I have read the arguments and listened to the protests. At times I wonder how many of those who said it would affect tourism actually travel the route.

Now I know you'll think my next comment is because I lean towards the SNP on occasion, but it was a difficult one this imho. If the pylons were to be 'new' rather than replacements, I think the government could have demanded totally hidden cabling. If the route had been different, rather than following the present route, then again it would have been much easier to say hidden cables.

As it is the two power companies seem to have played a blinder and had done their 'planning homework' well.

I understand Jim Mather has put Stirlingshire on his list of 'visual impact mitigation' sites. May be worth a wee letter to both power companies just to state your present concerns. They promised to discuss with the people.

subrosa said...

That's it in a nutshell Sue. Profit not people.

The problem is there are already power lines there. These new, bigger pylons will replace them. Also not all in favour of the upgrade were in favour of underground cabling.

It'll be some time before all this is started so there may be hope that certain areas no have underground cabling. Fingers crossed.

Selma said...

I think we need to seriously consider localising energy production as well as a host of other aspects of our society.

Clarinda said...

I recall my father mourning the effect of hydro-electic dams on the river courses and lochs in the highlands back in the 50s and the monstrous impact of the huge concrete dams themselves as blots on the landscape then. Those who never knew how the highland rivers etc. roared and flowed before accept the more placid form today as normal. The replacement pylons at least have a definite and consistent function, unlike the awful blight of unreliable windfarms whisking the air like upturned blenders.
Cheviots, dams and pylons - what next, at least wolves were once natural inhabitants of the highlands!

Mr. Mxyzptlk said...

"The objection that it will affect tourism is ridiculous"

Yes much more preferable the Tourists come and gaze upon the raggedy Scots in their Hovels..and say.........How Quaint!

Anonymous said...

I imagine that one of the reasons that they don't want them underground is that it is so much more of a problem to fix a fault when it occurs. One of the reasons that our roads are in such a disgusting state is that that they are forever being dug up by power companies.

You can’t have everything in life. It’s time we started to accept that. Pylons are ugly, but you get used to seeing them. There are many other ugly things in life. Some of them make our lives what they are. We need to accept that.

I accept your point SR about cancer and proximity to power lines. Perhaps some more research into that would be a good idea

subrosa said...

Selma, there are some pilot schemes running in local communities. We'll have to see what reports they give.

Wouldn't hold my breath though. People don't even clear pavements these days to ensure others can walk safely.

subrosa said...

I too remember my father commenting on the dams Clarinda. He was so taken with what he saw as exceptional engineering undertaken with architectural splendour, that every year he dragged us to Pitlochry for a day out. We had to relearn the pros and cons of hydro electric as, being city children, we may have forgotten.

The wind farms are becoming rather more of a hinderance than a help. Today's another day there's little or no wind. Only a couple of days since Christmas that the sails have turned locally.

subrosa said...

Happy New Year Niko. Now there's an idea. Are you turning your house into a showcase? As long as you're not charging too much I'll come and look round. :)

subrosa said...

I think the research into electromagnetic fields will go on forever more Tris. Hopefully we too will be kept up to date with the results.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

I had a dream.

I dreamt of a dual carriageway A9 surging up the spine of Scotland and integrated with it would be a duct feeding services to and power from the Highlands and Islands?

But then, there was no purse to limit my dream or bottom line to quash it.

subrosa said...

A perfect solution Crinkly if I may say. Unfortunately a dream which will never come to pass in my lifetime. As you'll be aware part of the reason the A9 has never been upgraded is because foreign landowners will not sell land to effect the project. Legal proceedings take years to come to fruition especially when dealing with absent landowners.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Now Rosa, we would just have to employ a little bit of independent Scottish guile.

A wee episode of MacTaliban MacJihad and we'd not only get our dual A9 and service duct, we'd get it in double quick time and the Americans paying for it!

Seriously, I think the decision on pylons is more down to pennies than private property rights.

JRB said...

A Good New Year to All

There is no objection from the Highlands to the supply of renewable power to the south.

What has caused such wide scale objection is the planned use of ‘monster’ pylons. These pylons are not just ‘bigger’ they are on an unprecedented scale ‘bigger’. They are monstrous.

These ‘bigger’ pylons will each be ‘bigger’ than either the Wallace Monument or Nelsons Column.

The numbers for those who have objected may, by urban standards, seem small, but they represent a high percentage of the local rural population in each the Highland areas. Take the Cairngorm National Park, which covers a vast area of the Highlands, their objection counts as but one vote against.

The power could easy be transferred south by alternative methods
- the existing pylons could be re-cabled to carry the extra load.
- The cables could go underground. Modern mole cable laying is used very effectively in Canada and Scandinavia, we could do the same. It has already been done cross-country with gas pipes
- The cables could be laid at sea down the east coast of Scotland from the Beauly Firth to Grangemouth

With regard to the A9 – the landowners pose no obstacle to the upgrading of the road north. The problems all centre round Transport Scotland, a lack of political will and available ‘£sd’

It would indeed be ‘a dream come’ true if Crinkly’s vision came to reality.

Andrew said...


Being an optimist I am also expecting MacMillan to express his thanks to the PUBLIC SECTOR workers who have worked round the clock to keep the roads clear for haulage companies etc.

subrosa said...

I'm not as sharp as you Crinkly!

Of course the matter is about money rather than scenery. Surely compromises are the name of the game in issues like this. I see John, who has first hand knowledge of it all, has commented after you.

subrosa said...

A Guid New Year to you and yours John.

I realise the pylons are gigantic in comparison with the present ones but I certainly didn't know the present ones could have taken the load of the new cables.

I remember reading about the east coast thoughts and realised then that the power companies needed to stick to the 'upgrade' factor rather than a new route altogether which would cost them more money than ever.

This isn't the end of this matter though. The John Muir Trust is a powerful one and I'm sure they will continue to lobby the SG.

I sit corrected, but I do remember some years ago there were problems with absent landlords about the purchase of land. Obviously that is now resolved.

No Scottish government will agree to the upgrade of the A9. It took 20 years for the Balinluig junction have a sensible road network.

Those of us north of the central belt don't exist as far as some politicians are concerned (that is if they represent the central belt). Saying that, my own MSP has worked tirelessly for a dualled A9.

All you have to do is read some of the comments on Blether with Brian to see the regard some in the central belt have for us rural dwellers. If money isn't constantly thrown at Edinburgh and Glasgow then they're unhappy.

In this financial climate there's no chance of the A9 being upgraded so the main artery from England to Scotland will continue to be a dual/single roadway for years to come.

subrosa said...

Andrew, I'm an optimist too but not nearly as optimistic as you!

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Just had a thought about this - but what is meant by the South?

If its meant as part of Scotland's strategic grid then fair enough costs should be amortised and equalised.

If by South it means meeting export demands to the UK grid then we should be very wary of incurring these costs.

Because we know its Westminster's intention to flood its domestic demand through nuclear production. This could lead to any surplus of Scottish capacity having little or no leverage in England.

And due to the present iniquitous tariff charges of the grid where because of the distance between the source of the resource and the area of consumption the source has to subsidise its transmission, it would probably be wiser to transmit all excess renewable generation in a super link to Norway.

For Scotland to have cheap power can be a major factor in the lifestyle afforded to its citizens and the commercial enterprises and industries it can attract. That should be the goal, the earnings of exports should merely be the icing.

subrosa said...

I take the south to mean south of the border Crinkly.

Wasn't there talk at one time of having a pipeline between here and Norway? Haven't heard of that for some time.

It's true that the south of England receives our gas and pays less for it. Some friends of mine went to great trouble a few years ago to explain that to me and give me the proof.

Hence my statement.

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