The controversy over pylons shows no signs of going away. I have met several times with ministers together with other MPs from East Anglia whose constituents are affected by National Grid’s ill-thought out proposal to run pylons from Norwich through south Norfolk and across Suffolk to Tilbury in Essex.
Recently there has been some good news. Last week the energy secretary was due to attend an event at National Grid’s control room in Berkshire together with National Grid bosses, who had told staff the visit was “a significant endorsement at the highest level of government for the work we have been doing”.
Embarrassingly for National Grid, the visit didn’t happen. Reports indicate that National Grid had to postpone its publication of cabling plans for connecting offshore wind farms because the government raised concerns about opposition from MPs.
While I am pleased that government is starting to listen to our arguments, there is still much to do to ensure that National Grid actually adapts its plans to meet the entirely justified concerns of local residents. Alternative energy is a good idea but it must be delivered in way which is compatible with the concerns of local people.
A big part of the problem is the legacy of the regime created when Ed Miliband was energy secretary. This encouraged energy companies which were building offshore wind farms to establish their own separate connections to the onshore grid, while allowing them to ride roughshod over the interests of local people. Predictably, this approach has led to duplication and a proliferation of different cabling plans by different operators.
The obvious answer is to develop a co-ordinated offshore grid network and then to have operators sharing a grid connection whereby the electricity is brought onshore in one place. This will cut costs and also reduce the impact on the environment. The government and even National Grid now want to see this type of co-ordination. It has been estimated that a more integrated approach could save billions of pounds and half the number of new infrastructure installations, though implementing such changes will of course cause some delays.
A further vital point is that it will bring the energy closer to those who will be consuming it. The proposed despoiling of Norfolk’s countryside is not even supposed to benefit Norfolk residents. Instead it is designed to help deliver more power for electricity-hungry London and the south east. Residents deserve better answers and I will keep pressing the government to deliver a sensible solution.