Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The sad, leaning pylon off Portmeirion

No-one seems to have a kind word for pylons and this one, in the Dwyryd estuary, upstream from Portmeirion, is looking particularly sad. It’s built on a platform which has been eroded by the ebb and flow of tides, possibly made worse by the construction works on Pont Briwet.

A couple of weeks ago an inspection revealed that the pylon was leaning and the structure distorted. Power was switched off, the bridge and road closed, and last weekend the heavy cables were lowered and severed.

The Snowdonia Society has campaigned in the past to have these cables undergrounded for the sake of the spectacular views, particularly looking up the Dwyryd estuary, every bit as stunning as the next door Glaslyn. A recent concern was that money spent now, to fix this pylon, might jeopardise future chances of having this section undergrounded; especially relevant as a £500m fund has just been established to reduce the visual impact of transmission lines in protected landscapes across the UK such as Snowdonia.

Naïvely I wrote on behalf of the Society to ask if there was any chance of undergrounding the cables now, and David Vernon, an employee of National Grid, took time out to visit and explain to me how impractical that would be. Undergrounding is of course a complex task requiring a great deal of planning and consultation, especially so as this pylon is situated in land which is protected as both a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).  If they were to underground here, it is most likely it would be through building a tunnel, maybe 15 metres or so deep.

David also explained the significance of this line which is vital to the UK’s transmission network. Until it is reinstated, all power is being routed through the line of pylons on the north Wales coast. This does not have the capacity to take it all, so we are having to pay Wylfa and Dinorwig to cut back on production; money which ultimately will be passed on to us in our electricity bills!

Basically there is no higher priority within National Grid than to fix this problem and quickly.

Consultations are proceeding apace with Natural Resources Wales, Snowdonia National Park and Gwynedd Council. It is likely that a new pylon will be in place, about 50 metres north of the edge of the estuary, within a couple of weeks and the lines reconnected shortly after that. The pylon might be an L6 or an L8 and I’m hoping it’s an L8 because that model of pylon has a short shelf life, maybe 5 to 8 years. If that’s the case, then the possibility of having this monstrous string of pylons removed will be much more likely.

Whether it turns out to be an L6 or an L8 we have the assurance of National Grid that, whatever the solution and expense for this short term solution, it will not jeopardise our campaign to have this section undergrounded.

Before you get carried away please remember that the total fund for all the protected landscapes in the UK is £500m. Each kilometre of overhead cabling costs £1.5m. Each kilometre of underground cabling costs much more and depends upon the complexity of the geography. Recent figures for undergrounding in Powys suggest that each kilometre might be £7 to £8 million i.e. the total pot for the UK is equivalent to 60 to 70 kilometres. If we could get 6 or 7 kilometres that would be great – but then again, I think we have more kilometres of pylon lines than any other national park.

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