Burying visual pollution

pylon2 Pic: National Grid/PA

Most people are opposed to pollution but, of those, the vast majority tend to think of it as illegal dumping of litter, chemical spills or escapes as well as noxious substances in the air. They are right that these are all forms of pollution but it by no means stops there.

Other types of pollution include: light through light trespass or over-illumination; noise from various sources from industrial, transport and even loud music; radiation; thermal; and water. And those are just a few examples.

There does exist, however, another form of pollution that many people find extremely offensive. This is known as ‘visual pollution’ and may be of various types but includes man-made objects such as wind turbines, pylons and overhead power cables in an otherwise mainly unspoilt natural landscape. Even windfarms placed offshore to protect rural landscapes are still criticised for marring seaside views.

With all that in mind, I am absolutely delighted that views across certain UK rural areas are to be improved following the National Grid’s decision to remove overhead power lines.

The move is part of £500m of funding from regulator Ofgem to transform four protected landscapes across Wales, including one in the Snowdonia National Park, and England by burying cables underground by 2021.

The stretch in Snowdonia runs from Portmeirion to Llyn Trawsfynydd while England’s New Forest, Peak District and Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are the other three areas which will see overhead power lines disappear.

The stakeholder group of conservation organisations, which advised National Grid on which transmission lines to prioritise, was chaired by environmentalist Chris Baines. He said that some “difficult decisions” had to be made.

“Reducing the visual impact of pylons and power lines in our most precious landscapes is highly desirable but it is also very expensive and technically complex so we have had to make some difficult decisions.

“Although four schemes have been prioritised, none of the locations on our original short list have been dropped and they will remain under consideration for future work to reduce the impact of National Grid’s transmission lines under the vision impact provision project,” he said.

For me, the news is a welcome step in the right direction. But it is just that, a step, a first step on a long journey. Even this step is set to cost £500m and is scheduled to take up to six years to complete.

When any power line is moved from overhead to being buried, there is a major benefit for customers too. In strong storms, the likelihood of power cuts is much reduced as the risk of fallen lines is eliminated.

Another visual pollution pet hate of mine is the wind turbine. Intrusive whether on land or off-shore, the wind farms are not only bad to see but also inefficient. A study* published at this time last year found that, on average, wind farms produce 80 per cent of their potential power output for less than one week annually – and they manage 90 per cent output for only 17 hours a year.

If you have ever looked at wind turbines, you will know that they are useless in low winds and that they are often stationary in high winds. And if you wonder why, I’ll tell you: They are turned off to prevent damage if the wind speed is too high.

As unpalatable as it may be, the truth is that wind turbine technology is one renewable source of power that we cannot afford.


* Wind Power Reassessed, Adam Smith Institute and the Scientific Alliance


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