The answer is yes...

and National Grid have the evidence to prove it!



For a couple of years now, Stour Valley Underground have been pressing for National Grid to properly investigate the wider economic impacts of their proposals. National Grid say that they do not consider "hard to value" impacts of their pylon proposals though the Government through its National Policy Statements and the Treasury say they should, as do the energy industry regulators, OFGEM.


These impacts are termed socio-economic impacts and, for example, include the economic detriment to the tourism and leisure industries that are consequent of damaging the natural beauty of the environment. But is is very difficult to gather sufficiently comprehensive data to fully assess such impacts. How for example do you value the benefits of natural beauty on public wellbeing? And yet we all know that those wellbeing benefits are hugely valuable to us all.


National Grid, through their consultation have singularly failed to engage with the local rural business fraternity and have gathered almost no worthwhile data on the subject of socio-economic impacts. Thankfully however, there are other ways to quantify the value of the natural beauty of the landscape to society. One of these is to research what people are willing to pay to avoid the blighting of the landscape with pylons and other unsightly industrial installations.


OFGEM instructed National Grid to commission Willingness To Pay (WTP) research a good while back to support NG's current business plan and the first attempt produced a horrendously complex report which presented some confused and contradictory conclusions. So National Grid were told to start again with new consultants. 


The second survey was conducted by research consultants  Accent who are leaders in this field and the results are both remarkable and very important for our local connection project and indeed the future nature of the national transmission grid.


Accent looked at willingness to pay to underground power lines on existing pylons in designated landscapes such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB's). (Their report available here) They then went on to investigate what people would be willing to pay to underground the pylons in non designated landscapes such as, for example, the Brett or Stour valleys. Now this research was conducted with respect to existing pylons but the public values expressed must logically extend to new pylon projects. It is quite normal practice to draw on the results of research in one area and apply them to another, directly comparable one. To do otherwise would simply result in duplication of research. In any case, investment in undergrounding new lines delivers greater benefits per £ because a £ invested in undergrounding a new line would buy more undergrounding because you do not have the cost of removing the old equipment. 


Note:OFGEM are currently consulting on the development of their new RIIO energy regulatory regime, especially on visual amenity. The Accent research informs this process and OFGEM  have emphasised their receptiveness to consultation input on both existing AND new infrastructure in designated areas. So here again, the willingness to pay research is informing thinking about both new and old pylons, their impact on visual amenity and the public's willingness to pay to avoid the environmental detriment caused by overhead lines.


The amount the public are willing to pay to maintain and restore the natural beauty of the countryside, as revealed by Accent's work is actually way more than is needed. In the case of designated landscapes, three times more, and twice what's needed to fund undergrounding in non designated landscapes such as all that outside the Dedham Vale AONB along National Grid's Bramford to Twinstead pylon corridor.


The logical implication of this is that we no longer need argue about which lines get undergrounded. Instead the debate should in future be about in which order to underground them all. This would of course happen over the longer term, a period greater than the 8 year price control period that OFGEM and NG think in terms of. That said, the potential is there to work toward a Britain where electricity transmission takes place under the countryside as well as under the cities where undergrounding is already the norm.


So how do these research results impact the current Bramford to Twinstead consultation? 


Stour Valley Underground recently responded to National Grid's latest major consultation document, the Connection Options Report or COR with detailed counter proposals for cable routing at the western end of the corridor, our home turf as it were. But we set this within a well reasoned overarching case for total undergrounding of the connection from Bramford to Twinstead. Clearly, we have environmental and economic arguments that support our case, but until now we were calling for the expenditure of huge sums of money to avoid even greater economic damage to our local economy and the question remained: are the people of this country willing to pay to avoid this local detriment. The answer we now know is a resounding YES.


National Grid's decision, as announced in June, was to propose undergrounding the connection in the Stour Valley and Dedham Vale areas with the remaining 3/4 of the route to be blighted with overhead lines. This decision was based in large part on the notion that this was (in NG's belief) the level of undergrounding the public and NG's shareholders were willing to pay for.  But this new evidence from Accent clearly shows a willingness on the part of the general public to pay to underground the whole route. And so, National Grid's decision to propose overhead lines for much of the route (in their Connection Options Report) must now be revisited and revised. It is worth noting that in willingness to pay terms, the cost of undergrounding the entire Bramford to Twinstead route would be low.


There is much more to this issue than we can sensibly cover in this brief newsletter. The research report from Accent is to be found on the National Grid website and is available here with the relevant data tables here. Together with our colleagues in the Amenity Group Coalition which includes all of the active east of England campaign groups, we will be developing our case for total undergrounding based on a comprehensive interpretation of the implications of this research.


For now, you should know this: the evidence in Accent's report to National Grid on the willingness of the general public to pay for the undergrounding of  projects such as the Bramford to Twinstead Connection is clear. The public are more than willing to pay.


Note: In August 2012, National Grid and OFGEM held a Workshop in Birmingham which members of the East Anglian Amenity Group Coalition (of which SVU is a member) members attended. At the workshop, the Accent research results were considered at length. Thus both NG and Government are well aware of these research findings and we are very fortunate to have colleagues with both the knowledge and ability to work to ensure that the implications of this evidence are brought to bare on future grid development decisions.



But there's more…


At a late spring meeting, Stour Valley Underground pressed National Grid to look at the idea of undergrounding both the proposed and existing 400kv pylon lines in the Dedham Vale AONB only to be told that this was an irrelevant line of enquiry. But now we know that the public is more willing than is necessary to pay for such a project. And there are clear benefits to undergrounding both lines at the same time. There would be significant cost and time savings to be made because much of the planning and consenting work has already been, or will soon be done. Thus the full restoration of the natural beauty of this culturally significant landscape to its proper pylon free nature is a realistic possibility that we and others will continue pressing for.


As you know, the view in our picture at the top of this newsletter has to be one of the landscape travesties of our area. This landscape falls within the area proposed to be added to the nearby Dedham Vale AONB. The news of Accent's research findings should gladden your heart. It is now possible, that within our lifetimes, this view could be restored to its full glory within the countryside that has inspired many generations of painters. To view this possibility for yourself, simply sit down on a bench outside the Lamarsh Lion pub and look across the valley to what could one day be one of the finest views of Suffolk - a view from Essex.


For those who want to know more, we will soon publish a more comprehensive interpretation of Accent's research results and their implications here on our website. But for now, be heartened that it is not just we who live here in the countryside who are wiling to pay to rid our landscape of pylons: the people of Britain are willing to pay!

Are the people of Britain


Willing to Pay


to free the landscape from the blighting effect of electricity pylons?