Thinking the unthinkable


A Third Line of Pylons through Suffolk?

We discover that two lines of pylons

through our beautiful heritage landscape

may well not be enough!

Stour Valley Underground have now discovered from information recently provided by National Grid (Annex 1), that the second line of 50 metre tall pylons between Bramford in Suffolk and Twinstead in Essex will probably not provide sufficient electricity transmission capacity beyond the turn of the decade. Thus in 6 to 8 years time, we could all be in the same position as we are in now: fighting again to stop yet another pylon proposal from National Grid. 

THREE lines of 50 metre tall pylons through Constable and Gainsborough country! Unthinkable - but a real possibility.

By 2021, even if National Grid build the currently proposed new line of pylons, the total amount of power flowing through our valleys will almost reach the safety limits of the new system. Just one new proposal for a new gas fired power station in the eastern region within this time frame will push the power flows to the safe limit, two would push it beyond. National grid are forced by law to prevent this.

But why should we think this a possibility, or even likely? 

Recent discoveries of huge amounts of natural gas (Annex 2) here on the UK mainland can provide cheaper energy than wind or new nuclear. Gas fired power stations are also smaller, cheaper and quicker to build than other types of generators.  Thus, in the short to medium term, gas powered generators could keep the lights on as old fossil fuel power stations are closed.

Clearly, a cheaper energy source will impact investment in more expensive renewable generation making investment in gas fired power stations more likely, slowing development of the wind farms (Annex 3). And yet the wind farms need to be built to decarbonise the energy system and slow global warming.

And so we may well end up with an electricity transmission system with a capacity to cover both the wind and other generators that are currently planned plus new, as yet unspecified gas fired power stations in East Anglia. National Grid will be forced to offer all of these generators connections and provide the transmission capacity to get the power to its end users.

Our Nation needs energy independence and low cost energy with which to build economic recovery. New gas fired power stations will in all likelihood be a key contributor to those objectives. With them will come even more pylons unless we fight now to ensure that the new transmission technologies are embraced and low environmental impact underground tunnels (Annex 4) fitted with gas insulated lines (Annex 5) are employed to deliver this energy future and save our precious, culturally significant landscape for future generations.

Annex 1

The following is taken from a National Grid email response to a question from SVU researcher, Richard Barnes (full text available on request). The question sought to establish the capacity of the transmission system between Bramford and Twinstead, once the proposed new line was in service. National Grid's reply stated that :-

The calculation (of total transmission capacity) shows the system would be just under 1000MW away from the thermal limit in 2021"

A single gas fired power station would produce a power output of this order.

Annex 2

Recent announcements of the discovery of vast amounts of shale gas in Lancashire and elsewhere on the UK mainland have been pronounced as a potential "game changer" with respect to energy sourcing in the UK. Gas with the potential to last decades and at a cost lower than renewable energy sources will impact investment in renewables and new nuclear, slowing their development and deployment.

Annex 3

The huge East Anglia 1 Windfarm is already faltering in its development. Its developers Scottish Power Renewables and Vattenfall have recently told SVU that the  five segments beyond the first one are, to use their word, "uncertain". And yet the wind farms are a necessity if the Government is to hit its carbon reduction commitments. Thus a cheaper energy source will slow rather than halt this development.

Annex 4

National Grid currently employ directly buried cables for underground transmission. This cuts a 65m wide swathe through the landscape. We advocate using underground transmission lines in tunnels which allow a much smaller footprint and a simple upgrade path if more capacity is needed. Using gas insulated lines (GIL), the power lines are racked on the tunnel walls and if more capacity is needed, further lines are added to the tunnel at no increase in environmental damage to the landscape above.

Annex 5

Gas Insulated Lines(GIL) are a developing underground transmission technology that is produced in Germany, Korea and Japan amongst other nations. National Grid already have GIL installed at Elstree, north London. A GIL transmission system has been running faultlessly in Germany for 30 years. GIL has notable benefits in emitting negligible heat and electromagnetic radiation and can thus be mounted close together in tunnels. They are more efficient, exhibiting lower losses than overhead lines or cables. The emissions from GIL are low enough to allow service work inside the tunnels while the lines are live. More on GIL here.