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REVOLT Powerline Concerns Health Hazards Need UK Energy Policy

The Need
(or not)

The need (or not) for National Grid’s second 400kV Yorkshire line.

The latest position (13/03/00)

National Grid (NGC) propose to build a second "supergrid" 400kV line from Teesside to York, i.e. the Lackenby-Picton-Shipton (LPS) line. Like the existing line, it would carry two circuits.

NGC now has the main permissions it needs, i.e. Electricity Act consent from Secretary of State (SoS) and wayleaves (most of which are compulsory powers against objecting landowners). The unconsented gap at Middleton was consented in January. The Compulsory Purchase Orders for undergrounding in Cleveland were withdrawn in March as voluntary agreements were reached.

There are outstanding matters where local authorities refused to agree instances of the line coming within 100 metres of houses, and there are access planning permissions still required. Beyond that, landowners’ agreement is required for particular access and works on their land.

The technical need

There is ample capacity in the existing system. The technical need is based on security standards, to cover the worst case of two circuits being out. Security of the grid is very high, and failure would not result in consumers losing power, only in generators being constrained. When consumers lose power, it is due to faults in the local distribution system, not the supergrid. The record of the existing Yorkshire line suggests it would only fail once in seven years and then both circuits would be out for only a minute, and the consequences would be only very short constraint of power stations and therefore very small constraint payments. No one’s lights would go out.

The security standards were interpreted over-strictly by NGC, who admitted departing from their literal meaning, claiming it was for "good sense". In our view they also cheated on the data, e.g. counting 3 circuits as 2. They could have taken a less strict interpretation, it was their choice. The regulator OFFER (now Ofgem) supported NGC’s interpretation when we complained. The technical need for some reinforcement, to accommodate TPL (1875MW) and Scottish imports up to 1600MW (later 2200), was accepted by DTI inspectors and endorsed by Secretary of State (SoS).

Derogation

Since 1993, TPL has operated at full power without any problem due to the lack of the new line, under permission of a "temporary derogation". Constraint details are concealed behind commercial confidentiality, but later data show they were misrepresented at the inquiries. NGC has not applied for a permanent derogation, giving its reasons, and suggesting the regulator would not agree it. In letters 29.5.96 and 1.10.96, OFFER has said that, if consent were not granted, NGC would not necessarily be in breach of its licence and one possible action would be to seek derogation.

Economic choice of reinforcement

Alternatives exist and were appraised and found to be more expensive. However, the comparisons unfairly imposed extra Scottish imports on options which contractually prohibit them, and the constraint costs of options were exaggerated, as recent data have shown. In the decision letter of 26.3.98 SoS accepts (para 8.2) this may affect the appraisals, but in para 8.3 she accepts on the (flawed) evidence to the inquiry that other options would be more expensive. The appraisals do not take account of the overall economics, including waste in surplus northern generation and long-distance transmission, which show that the line would promote anti-competitive favouring of costly Scottish imports and energy waste costing over £500 million per year at wholesale prices.

The single-circuit option and the removal of the 275 kV Crathorne line

The 1992 DTI inspectors accepted that a single-circuit line would meet all immediate and foreseen loads, including the then proposed Neptune (1316MW) power station on Teesside. SoS reported 26.3.98 this as meeting "immediately foreseeable needs". A single-circuit line could be much smaller and lower than the proposed pylons. That benefit is considered against the risk of having to upgrade it later, which the inspectors found was a "finely balanced" choice. That was with Blyth (1082MW) still operating and Neptune (1316MW) foreseen, but Flotilla (779MW) yet to emerge. Now Neptune has been abandoned, Blyth proposed for closure and Flotilla delayed.

A new factor preventing the single-circuit option is NGC’s proposed removal of the 275kV line through Marton, Coulby Newham, Yarm and Eaglescliffe. That is a benefit which has become an expectation. It does not justify a new and bigger line elsewhere. Removal of the Crathorne line requires replacement only between Lackenby and the grid. That could be by the Lackenby-Picton line, "teed" to the existing line at Picton, or (better) by a new line from Lackenby to Norton on industrial land north of the Tees. That is not the same as the rejected Northern Route from Lackenby to Picton via Norton. Either way, removal of the Crathorne line does not affect the single-circuit case from Picton to Shipton.

If (when) Blyth closes

Potential closure of Blyth was considered at the 1992 inquiry. Its closure would leave some technical non-compliance by NGC’s calculations. South of Picton it would come down to stability problems, which can be solved (with difficulty) without a new line. This would enable the Picton-Shipton section to be abandoned, while still permitting the removal of the Crathorne line.

The way forward

The most likely outcome is that Blyth will close, because it is uneconomic and National Power want rid of it, and Flotilla will, like Neptune before it, be abandoned. Flotilla is already delayed and is against government policy for generation. A further surplus power station in the far north, to meet net demand in the far south, is fundamentally uneconomic compared with the options of piping the gas to the south for more efficient CHP systems there. Ultimately regulation ought to catch up on the gross distortions in the artificial market, so it would not be attractive to the developer.

The sensible outcome would be to allow the removal of the Crathorne line, either by teeing in a Lackenby-Picton line at Picton or by seeking a new line north of the Tees. In the former case there are some local safeguards still needing attention. The Picton-Shipton line should be put on ice while the generation picture clarifies, hopefully so that at worst a single-circuit line might be built, but if economic sense prevails none would be needed.

Mike O’Carroll 13.3.00

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