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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Power and the glory

WEAK spot blocking Cumbria’s Energy Coast ambitions is its underpowered electricity grid.

But plans are under way to overcome the obstacle.

Currently, a new nuclear power station, should it get the go ahead, or more and larger offshore wind farms, or possibly estuary and bay barrages, and even biomass developments along the coast, would be left high and dry unless they can get their power to market.

The capacity just doesn’t exist.

After requests from Cumbria including from would-be nuclear power station developer in the county, RWE npower, the National Grid which owns and maintains the nation’s power backbone, is considering the county’s options for the significant additional power lines it will need to become Britain’s Energy Coast™.

Jeanette Unsworth, spokeswoman for National Grid, said: “The system we have got is in the wrong place. You can’t just wheel pylons across to where they are needed unfortunately.

“It means we have to build a new power line to connect into the national grid system.

“The process is when you get something like a nuclear power plant or a wind farm they come along to us.

“Having asked for a connection into our system we then look at all the options before we can offer them a connection option.”

It’s called optioneering in the business and in that area of activity everything is in the process of change.

Up to now, if the National Grid wanted to erect a new overhead power transmission line on pylons marching across the countryside, it had to approach every local authority along the route, and if one objected the plan had to be scrapped.

Now the government has introduced a new independent planning authority and any applications for new pylons will in future be determined by that body.

It still involves a “deep consultation with all stakeholders” and local communities can’t be just overridden, said Ms Unsworth.

But the idea is that it will move applications including any from Cumbria, along faster, than the years it has often taken in the past.

Cumbria poses special problems because of its beauty.

Most new transmission lines are spun out over pylons rather than buried.

As a rule of thumb it costs ten times as much to bury power cables than to bear them aloft, and even then a small roadway has to run alongside them. Pylons are also a lot less costly to maintain.

Ms Unsworth said: “There is not the capacity and what capacity there is, is not in the right place. We take power from Scotland down south and there are no legs off it to bring in supplies from the coast.

“It’s not rocket science to see that if all the generation is on the coast and all our infrastructure is inland the electricity is not going to get there by flying carpet.”

At the big Energy Business Opportunities Conference (EBOC 09) staged by the West Cumbrian Business Cluster at the new Energus training college in July, National Grid executive Peter Fendley said the organisation was looking at what it could do to connect a line to carry a potential 3.6 gigawatts of electricity that could be produced by Energy Coast schemes, to the grid.

High capacity lines could be laid northwards from the Energy Coast to connect to the National Grid at Harker sub station near Carlisle, or southwards following the A595 and A590 via Ulverston, and on to Hutton near Kendal to connect with the grid there.

“Going across Morecambe Bay would be another option,” said Mr Fendley.

In that case the options would be to bury the cable under the waters of the bay on its way to a National Grid connection at Heysham, or alternatively, to sling the 400 kv system between special transmission towers that would be erected 200 metres apart across the bay, towers that would probably be visible.

National Grid is looking at various studies and has carried out a feasibility study for Cumbria Vision.

RWE npower, which has bought farmland at Kirksanton nearly Millom and at Braystones near Egremont after proposing the sites for coastal nuclear power stations, says it has been offered 3.6 gigawatts of power cable capacity (3,600 megawatts) to either site by National Grid.

A spokeswoman explained: “We have accepted a 3.6GW grid connection offer for each site, which would allow development of enough low carbon nuclear power capacity at each site to supply five million homes.”

“We have nominated both sites into the government's Strategic Siting Assessment process, which is designed to assess the 11 sites nominated.”

The government is going to announce a preliminary list of possible power station sites this autumn reducing the list to nine, with a final list of approved sites to be chosen sometime next year.

National Grid said in a statement: “National Grid has been asked to provide connections to the national electricity network in Cumbria for a number of new generators, including both offshore wind generation and onshore nuclear generation.

“To make these connections it will be necessary to increase transmission capacity in the area by upgrading the existing equipment and building new infrastructure, including new transmission power lines.

“The point where the new overhead lines will connect to the system and the routes they might take have yet to be decided and National Grid is conducting extensive studies in the area to gather technical and environmental information. Based on these studies, a number of potential route corridor options will be developed.

“A key part of National Grid’s approach in developing routes for new transmission power lines will be to seek the views and opinions of councillors, local residents and community groups on all the possible options. In line with the new planning process now in place for major infrastructure developments, National Grid would undertake a series of presentations to local councillors.

“These would be followed by public exhibitions where residents would have the opportunity to ask questions and voice their opinions.

“Feedback from this consultation process would then be used to identify and shape the preferred route option.”

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