Lib Dem Group Response to Grid Enhancement Consultation

The Suffolk County Council Liberal Democrat Group recognises the need to reinforce National Grid connections in many areas to support the move to renewable energy sources and a new generation of power stations.  It knows that the location of these differ from the locations of previous generation of fossil fuel power sources.  It understands that the intermittent nature of many renewable energy sources requires grid capacity to match rated rather than typical power availability. 

However, we must emphasise the need to make every effort to achieve such grid reinforcement without significant negative impact on the quality of life of Suffolk residents.  In addition the vital contribution of Suffolk’s tourist industry must be protected.  Its’ dependence on the beautiful and unspoilt nature of the countryside, that reflects qualities unchanged since Constable and Gainsborough, must be taken into account. 

The National Grid proposals are based on a single solution to the need for grid capacity enhancement. This solution is based on 1970’s technology and an unremitting focus on cost minimisation.  It proposes four corridors of 400kV overhead lines supported on massive 46 metre pylons between Bramford sub-station and Twinstead Tee in Essex.  All impact on visual amenity, quality of life and the tourist industry to a totally unacceptable extent.  Any attempt on our behalf to select a least worst-cost option, would accept the basic principle that an overhead line across unspoilt countryside is an acceptable solution.  This is not our view.

Selection of any one corridor would accept that the countryside, people and tourist potential on that route is of significantly lower value than the others.  The Group would not wish to make this distinction.  In fact, although two corridors traverse the Dedham Vale ANOB, the landscape value of all corridors is closely matched.  The Stour and Box Valleys, traversed by corridors 3 and 4 are of high merit.

We believe that a diversity of options involving differing strategic solutions and other technologies should be assessed seriously.  They should not be dismissed lightly on cost grounds, but should be evaluated in detail.  There should be an emphasis on reduction of costs by modern engineering techniques, to lowest achievable levels, before comparison between options is made.  In this comparison, impact on visual amenity, quality of life and tourist considerations should be assigned high value. 

Alternate strategic solutions would be, for instance, an under-sea DC connection from Sizewell to the Thames Estuary.  Alternative modern technologies would include in-tunnel installation of gas-insulated or polythene (XPLE) insulated cables.

The Commission of The European Communities paper “Under-grounding of Electricity Lines in Europe”, December 2003, indicates that there is a great diversity of cost estimates for this technology.  The downward pressure on costs for most recent technology and installation techniques must be evaluated from an unbiased standpoint.

A clear, open and honest analysis of options, evaluating alternative technical and route solutions is necessary, as is a presentation of that analysis to the population and real consultation. This will give proposals the moral authority that comes from a demonstrably ethical approach to the issue.

We believe that although there is a need to progress grid reinforcement, the power sources that National Grid is seeking to connect will not be available before 2021.  Therefore there is time to develop a clear understanding of the benefits, feasibility, cost and difficulties of a range of real options.  This should replace the current set of minor variants on a single approach, replacing a flawed with an effective consultation.

We would urge National Grid to evaluate alternative technologies fairly, grasp the nettle, go for underground or undersea lines and gain the advantages of lower fault incidence, reduced loss, fewer planning issues, less damage to our quality of life and a population that believes National Grid has their interests at hart.

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