A pylons action group is campaigning for a strategic offshore grid instead of 180km of 50-metre-high pylons stretching across East Anglia. It is still waiting to hear Prime Minister-hopeful Liz Truss reveal her position on the potential havoc National Grid plans will wreak on the region.
The National Grid plan is to convey electricity, primarily for London, from the north Norfolk coast where cabling from windfarms comes onshore, to a substation on the edge of the Thames estuary at Tilbury.
Rosie Pearson, spokesperson for Essex Suffolk Norfolk Pylons (ESNP), says it’s time Truss “nailed her colours to the mast”. She is frustrated that the South West Norfolk MP has yet to make her position clear on the planned electricity infrastructure in her own region.
Liz Truss is currently the leading contender in the Tory leadership race, which will see a new Prime Minister installed in 10 Downing Street on 5 September. While her own constituency won’t be directly affected by the planned pylon route, there will be cable trenching from Happisburgh to the Necton substation just outside Swaffham, which will be disruptive for residents. The trenching involves the excavation of land corridors up to 100 metres wide, required each time a new windfarm makes landfall.
Sunak supports offshore grid
The ESNP group and many of their supporters wrote to both Truss and Sunak in July. None have received a response from the Norfolk MP, which the group’s leader described as “very disappointing”. Rishi Sunak did reply, saying he fully supports an offshore grid.
So far, there has been little evidence of a coordinated strategy for the many offshore windfarms under construction or planned off the East Anglia coast over the next decade. This perceived failure was expressed in a 2021 report titled Crossed Wires by the conservative think tank, Policy Exchange.
It states: “Given the potentially large costs involved in encouraging projects to coordinate, we recommend that the Government focus only on the projects where early coordination could have the biggest benefits; the Government should focus on the East Anglia region, where there are six new offshore windfarms that are looking to connect to the onshore electricity network in mid-2020s and where proposals include new substations and many miles of underground cables onshore.”
Pearson agrees. “We need Liz Truss to explain why we, in the East of England, are being treated as second-class citizens with a continuation of the piecemeal model that connects each farm individually to the shore. Meanwhile, in the north of the country, electricity is being transmitted by a number of offshore cables.”
Report: “Risk of backlash”
Elsewhere in the Policy Exchange report, there is a recognition of likely repercussions to the current haphazard approach: “Without reform, there is now a significant risk that local backlash against grid connections for offshore windfarms will grow, spreading from East Anglia to North Wales, Humberside, and the east coast of Scotland.”
The criticism has proved prescient, as that backlash is already mounting. The recent national transmission blueprint (the Holistic Network Design) was seen by local residents as ’disastrous’ for East Anglia. Pearson says: “the new prime minister needs to get to grips with the electricity infrastructure challenges affecting East Anglia as quickly as possible.”
It’s not just local campaign groups like ESNP who are angry with the National Grid’s proposals. Every local authority, town and parish council across East Anglia affected by the proposal, as well as every MP whose constituencies the pylons will run through, oppose the plans. They instead support an offshore grid that would take cabling from the windfarms along the seabed around the East Anglia coast and up the Thames estuary to the Tilbury substation where it would connect to the London grid. This could save £6bn according to the National Grid’s own figures.
To Pearson, this huge saving is a no-brainer. “We are calling for a new electricity transmission review and an offshore grid for East Anglia. It would be a huge saving for consumers and be far better for both the countryside and communities.”
Over 22,000 people have signed the group’s petition since May.