A Line in the Sand for On-Shore Wind: the impact on Dumfries & Galloway
Will Amber Rudd’s announcement in Parliament on Monday this week that draws a line in the sand for on-shore wind farms influence Scottish Power Energy Networks Strategic Reinforcement proposal for Dumfries & Galloway?
I think it will but it won’t make the proposal go away. Dumfries & Galloway already has 387MW of wind farms in operation, 119MW under construction and 575MW consented. By around 2020 that will be over 1000MW of connected generation with a 132kV network infrastructure designed for around 100MW.
Ironically, Dumfries & Galloway doesn’t need or want all this electrical energy so the excess- the majority – needs to flow west to east across the region to Harker near Carlisle where it can feed into the existing 400kV network in order to distribute the energy to regions in England where the demand exists.
The current high voltage (HV) system in the region is also getting old so it makes sense to upgrade the system such as the switchgear, transformers and so on with modern equivalents. But, and this is the important point, if onshore wind farm subsidies are now constrained to what was consented by the 18 June 2015 then the rating of the infrastructure making up the strategic reinforcement proposal needs to be examined in light of this announcement.
This could mean, all things being equal, that a voltage lower than 400kV may suffice and this in turn has implications for the cost and scale of the project as well as the size of the pylons needed to support the overhead line. In this case, for instance, the proposed pylons may be able to be reduced in height from around 45-50m to around 30m if an uprated 132kV could accommodate the renewable generation. And while no-one wants to see pylons in an otherwise unspoilt countryside, as the lesser of two evils, this height reduction would be welcome. Alternatively, there is the option of using a new design of pylon, called the T- pylon. At 35m high these are up to one third lower than the conventional steel lattice design, cheaper to produce and being less obtrusive would fit into the landscape more easily. To see one of these pylons go to http://www.theengineer.co.uk/energy/news/national-grid-unveils-first-t-pylon-built-in-uk/1020179.article
The other impact of Amber Rudd’s announcement is that the location of wind generation changes to what it might otherwise have been. In other words, throughout the region there will be areas where on-shore generation was anticipated and planned for that will no longer materialise post 2020. Consequently it would make sense for Scottish Power Energy Networks to re-visit their proposed route in order to determine whether it still remains the optimum choice.
However, in life things do not always remain static and it would be reasonable to anticipate more effort and investment going into off-shore wind along the Solway coast. Dong Energy, for example proposed a 300MW installation back in 2012. So, with examples like this together with further developments in tidal and wave power the region may well find itself once more having to cope with large additional amounts of electrical energy that it does not need but for which it has to act as a conduit to transfer the energy to where it is required in the south of England.
What we have to ask ourselves is this. Does it make sense that instead of designing an overhead transmission system to transfer this excess energy across the region and causing mayhem to the lives of all the people who live in the area, despoiling the beautiful countryside, reducing the attraction for tourists and de-valuing properties close to the HV network, to choose instead a sub-sea route?
Yes it will cost more, several times more; but when the cost of loss of tourism, fall in property prices and increased use of health services due to stress and worry is taken into account then we may find this option becomes more attractive.
And if Scottish Power don’t listen. Well – the answer is simple. If Scottish Power provide your energy then you can always vote with your feet and find another energy provider and tell them why you are switching.
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26 June 2015