Could we have another 160 miles of pylons across East Anglia?
- Credit: Julie Kemp
Fears are growing that a string of new electricity pylons could soon be seen stretching across the East Anglian countryside - from the north Norfolk coast, to near Ipswich and beyond.
And there are fears that an agreement to put much of the new electricity cable from Bramford to Twinstead, in Essex, underground could be reversed in a cost-cutting measure when it is installed in the next 10 years.
The proposals have been revealed by the National Grid's Electricity Service Operator (ESO), in a report produced for the government showing what new infrastructure is needed to ensure power gets to where it is needed.
The latest Network Options Assessment published last month recommends the new links between Bramford and the Norfolk coast, about 75 miles, and between Bramford and north Kent - which is about 85 miles.
The National Grid's electricity transmission business must now decide whether to accept those recommendations.
If it accepts them, it will have to decide whether to use pylons or bury the cables - and what route to take.
However, official electricity market regulator Ofgem has recommended that distribution companies should look to minimise the cost of new transmission - and it is much cheaper to erect pylons than bury cables.
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A decision on whether the new cables will be installed will not be made until the middle of this year, and even that is likely to be followed by further discussions on possible routes and whether any will be put underground.
Both Suffolk County Council and local MPs are concerned about the proposals.
Richard Rout is the county council's cabinet member for the environment.
He said: “I’m very concerned by these proposals for new electricity pylon lines.
“We know that over a third of the nation’s power is going to be produced on or around the East Anglian coast and appreciate that it will need to be moved around the country in new ways.
“But we believe that there are better ways of moving this power out of Suffolk. Pylons across our beautiful countryside and through natural habitats are not the way forward."
National Grid ESO is also looking to try to co-ordinate offshore wind production, so different companies share onshore substations and other facilities.
It believes the number of connections could be halved if there was a more co-ordinated approach.
Other engineers believe the number of connections could be cut from 150 to 30 if there was full co-operation.
Mr Rout said: “For a long time, we have proposed that the solution is a co-ordinated offshore approach.
"We have been working with our local MPs, government, and National Grid to explore the benefits of this and make it a priority.
"National Grid’s own report demonstrates that such a coordinated approach will save money and vastly reduce the amount of infrastructure being built in our countryside, such as pylons.
“We’re meeting with National Grid to understand their thinking, but we will be arguing once again that these proposals are not the right way to get power out of our region.”
More talks are due to be held between officials from the National Grid and the county council over the next few weeks.
However, a decision on what should happen is not expected until June at the earliest.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter, whose constituency includes Bramford, recalled the battle to get National Grid to lay some of the cable to Twinstead underground.
He said: “I was concerned to learn about National Grid’s plans for electricity pylons to be constructed through swathes of Suffolk’s beautiful countryside.
"Almost 10 years ago, I fought hard and successfully alongside Tim Yeo to ensure that National Grid installed its Bramford to Twinstead lines underground.
"We must do all that we can once again to protect Suffolk’s communities and environment from the march of overground electricity pylons.
“This plan has come out of the blue and I shall be working with my parliamentary colleagues to seek further clarification from National Grid on the need for this type of connection, greater detail about their proposed routes and most importantly, why earlier consideration of offshore or underground solutions are not currently being proposed as the preferred option.
"I shall also be seeking assurances from ministers that National Grid is not allowed to renege on previous commitments to protect our countryside and push for them to develop an offshore transmission grid for the East of England.”
A National Grid Electricity System Operator spokesman said: “Our Network Options Assessment (NOA) gives recommendations to electricity transmission owners on which transmission projects should receive investment during the coming year to ensure that collectively Great Britain can achieve a secure, sustainable and affordable energy future.
"The NOA only evaluates options presented by the transmission owners and does not comment on the details of any specific option, such as how it could be planned or delivered.
"The transmission owners or other relevant parties are ultimately responsible for what, where and when they invest.”