Thursday, January 07, 2010

My thoughts on the Beauly to Denny transmission line.

Today's news has been dominated by the Scottish Government's approval of a major piece of electricity transmission infrastructure. The Beauly-Denny line is a 135 mile long high voltage (400Kv) electricity line that passes through some of the most scenic areas of Scotland including part of the Cairngorm National Park (CNP) . I live some miles away from the power lines track, but still within the CNP and the idea of 400kV lines passing by my house does bring on deep emotions of rejection and horror. Despite knowing perfectly well that almost every aspect of the landscape in which i live reflects the actions of man--from the deforested and now heath covered hillsides to the grazed valleys and the plantation forests--it somehow feels wild and removed from the economic and political laws that we all except are governing our urban environments. Unfortunately i`m wrong on this, but that doesn't stop me from connecting in a visceral way with the 20'000 people who objected to this line being built.

I support the line because according to the experts it is one vital piece required in the rebuilding of the UK's electricity grid in order to deal with low carbon forms of power. My support for the line is tinged by a sadness for what has unarguably been lost and the sense that there is a disconnect between the act of energy consumption and the large scale consequences. In a way climate change is reducing this disconnect, government policy is starting to shift us away from fossil fuels the damaging results of which where shifted in time and space. No longer are the negative effects of our energy use felt by miners lungs, by communities near to extractive industries or by the victims of climate change either now or in the future. Renewables force all of the impacts of our energy onto the local population in the present and near to where the energy is being used. In a renewable powered future we wont be able to dump the unpleasant results of our energy intense lifestyles overseas or into the future anymore. My conclusion from this is that energy isn't without cost and people need to look at their own energy use; weather it be flying or driving or heating and ask how many wind turbines and how much land would be needed to sustain this lifestyle?

The other big issue that this decision raises for me is local planning control. Earlier in the year the Scottish government called in a golf course planning application and treated that as a national priority. That was absurd and this was clearly of more national significance but 20'000 letters of objection sounds like a lot to me. I wonder what local opinion was like and as an some-time anti-aviation campaigners i have to ask myself where my principles are on this. Should local people be pushed aside under the rubric of the greater good or is that hopelessly naive; do people nationally know what is best for the country or is it all about people controlling their local destiny?

The final issue it raises with me is the difference between environmentalists on the one hand who believe that a landscape is constituted of a places geology, soil, flora and fauna. And on the other hand, hikers, conservation groups, local home owners...and part of me! The latter group are romantics and would sooner see hundreds of millions more spent on under grounding power lines (and damaging local ecology more) rather than see the unique Landscape characteristics altered. It's only part of me that feels this way and i see the flaws in that part only to well. There are plenty in Scotland who rarely see the area we are discussing and even more who don't have the money to spare in increased energy bills for some of the project alternatives. My better side sees that pylons will have minimal ecological impact and will benefit the less well off through lower bills as compared to the alternatives. Also, the idea that under grounding, which involves digging VERY LARGE trenches and incurring efficiency losses would be done in the name of the environment is bizarre. Climate change is a far greater threat to the Cairngorms that even a rather large number of ugly pylons; anyone claiming to care about the Cairngorms as a place must recognise that it is more that a topography for their outdoor pursuits, it is a unique sub-alpine ecosystem worthy of our efforts to leave carbon in the ground.

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At 5:41 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Great article, and I agree almost 100% with what you've said.

It has pained me to see conservation groups pitted against environmental groups, with FoES being described as industry "bulldogs" in one article I saw. Of course, in an ideal world neither side would like the pylons there. But the world isn't ideal, and we're fighting to keep it more or less as it is. What will the landscape look like if we don't turn to renewables, if we let climate change take hold?

As I said in one of my posts, the pylons will quickly become "background noise". If you're used to them being there, then you'll soon not even see them. The tourists will barely register them. I was on holiday in the Shetlands last year and I only noticed the pylons and wires when I looked at my photos later - and they were easily photoshopped out! At the time, they didn't register on my consciousness.


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