The Sting in the Tail
MLAG is receiving an increasing number of concerned calls and emails on the subject of pylons, so it seems a good time to take a look at this further threat to our countryside.
Even people who don’t object, in principle, to wind turbines, or those who feel happy that any proposed development wouldn’t be within sight or sound of their property, may feel differently about the prospect of pylons carrying high voltage cables over their land or near to their homes.
The Brechfa Forest Connection Project, which is the upshot of the planning permission given to the wind farms in and around the forest, is the most immediate threat to Carmarthenshire.
But the fact of the matter is that all turbines in Carmarthenshire will need to be connected to the grid.
Going back only as far as the beginning of 2011, the number of developments, either already approved or still to be decided, throughout Carmarthenshire is approaching 100.
So, lots of cables and possibly pylons needed already, and there are more planning applications coming online all the time. It goes without saying that the fewer wind turbines that get permission, the fewer pylons we will need …
Whilst the turbines themselves tend to be in clusters, the pylons will, of course, be linear, crossing many miles of open country, near rivers, national monuments, footpaths, holiday routes and tourist attractions.
So why, you may ask yourself, is the future requirement for pylons never made clear in any wind turbine planning application?
The answer is, that it doesn’t have to be. The developers are not obliged to forewarn the public of a later need for pylons, when securing planning permission for wind turbines ... even though connection to the grid is a prerequisite of erecting these machines.
Not that you will find the developers’ names on any correspondence to do with pylons, because the buck is neatly passed to Western Power, who have a legal obligation to connect the turbines to the grid.
The developers, however, still have to pay for it, and will fight to use overground routes, as opposed to the more environmentally acceptable underground cabling. This is because putting the cables underground is seriously expensive, e.g. £1M worth of underground cabling would cost as little as £150K if put overground.
The photos to the right show three types of pylons, which are representative of the types we could be faced with in our hills and valleys.
Much is made of the fact that the pylons will not necessarily be the traditional metal monsters, but made of wood (either of the type resembling a giant trident, or portal frames, which have two high poles with a connecting metal crossbar on the top).
However, we think you will agree, the wooden versions are hardly pleasing to the eye. At 20metres (60 feet) tall, which is roughly the height of a six storey building, and strung with multiple, heavy duty cables, they will still be highly visible and totally out of keeping with the surrounding countryside.
What is more, we understand there to be a finite capacity for the wooden poles, which if exceeded (and which is quite likely, if more projects go ahead) means the metal versions will be used instead.
So – what can we do about this? Well, it's worth bearing in mind the stand Carmarthenshire County Council took in August 2013, asking for the public’s support in opposing overground cabling, i.e.:
"Councillors argued that the overhead cables and pylons would be detrimental to the environment, to communities, a potential risk to health, a blight to housing and have an adverse effect on tourism in the area."
Ignoring the obvious irony here, in that exactly the same could be said for the wind turbines, the Council’s thoughts on the matter were encouraging. Sadly, however, the sections of cabling already decided on are mostly going overground.
We are now approaching a new round of consultation, however, by WPD on the Brechfa Forest Connection and WPD have now released details of the six exhibitions taking place during Stage 3 Consultation. (Full details can be viewed here).
And finally, it's worth remembering that a precedent for the use of underground cabling was set back in 1996, when protestors secured the burying of 20 miles of cables, serving Llyn Brianne Dam.
To quote Jonathon Edwards, MP during a very interesting debate on Energy Transmission Infrastructure (Carmarthenshire): “There is a clear precedent for undergrounding in Carmarthenshire. The Llyn Brianne hydroelectricity scheme in the north-east of my constituency was connected to the national grid via 20 miles of undergrounding …” (For full content see: http://www.jonathanedwards.org.uk/energy-transmission-infrastructure-carmarthenshire?lang=en.)
This is encouraging, but make no mistake, in addition to irrevocably changing the bucolic character of our landscapes, and adversely affecting our quality of life, and potentially our health, with wind turbines, the developers will look upon the installation of these power lines and associated pylons as a fait accompli.
We therefore urge everyone to take any and all lawful action to oppose Western Power’s stated preference for overhead powerlines.
Because we do have a choice – we must just say No.