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SVIMS - Statement to Parliament

Statement to Scottish Parliament, 7 December 2011

Fergus Ewing, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism

Beauly to Denny - Decision on Stirling Visual Impact Mitigation Scheme

I wish to inform parliament of an important decision I have made in connection with the upgrade of the Beauly to Denny overhead transmission line at Stirling.

The Beauly Denny upgrade is Scotland's key to connecting renewables and to the new jobs that will bring. The upgrade is essential for us to our reach renewables targets, and for ensuring energy security. Consent for the line therefore had widespread support across the Scottish Parliament.

My predecessor Jim Mather announced Consent for the Beauly Denny line in Parliament on 6 January 2010. The Consent attached a number of conditions to protect the public, the environment and our cultural heritage and take into account the views of communities along the length of the line. Those Conditions are being met, existing pylons are coming down and work is progressing apace.

When consent was granted, the importance of mitigating the impacts of the line at Stirling was recognised and a Condition was imposed accordingly. In short, Condition 19 requires that proposals for mitigating the visual and landscape impacts of the line near Stirling must be approved by Scottish Ministers before the towers and transmission line can be erected.

Following a lengthy process of engagement and consultation, Scottish Power Transmission submitted proposals for that Stirling Visual Impact Mitigation Scheme on 26 August 2011.

I wish to inform this Parliament that I am approving those proposals for the 400kV line. But I am doing so with some important and additional further proposals to mitigate the impact.

In coming to this decision I have taken into account all the relevant material considerations, and have had regard to the views presented by Stirling Council - representing the communities involved.

I have also considered the views of my consultants Ironside Farrar, Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Government officials, as well as the findings of the Reporter to the Public Inquiry in 2009.

I have toured the length of the consented line covered by Condition 19 with my consultants and officials.

I have considered carefully the proposals contained in the Scheme. The proposals made by Scottish Power Transmission employ mitigation methods including landscape reinforcement, the undergrounding of existing low voltage overhead lines and other compensatory measures in seven locations.

These proposals offer an important level of mitigation to the landscape and visual impact of the line.

Presiding officer, let's be clear: the Beauly Denny overhead line upgrade is the most important grid infrastructure upgrade in several generations. There is a pressing need to get on with this development.

The transmission network was built in the 50s and 60s, and designed to transport electricity generated by large plants located close to their sources of fuel, namely the coal fields in England and the central belt of Scotland.

The renewables ambitions of modern Scotland have very different requirements. Energy generated at the periphery must now be transported to the centres of population. That clean green energy revolution is transforming Scotland building on our distinct competitive advantage in renewable energy. It is delivering thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds of investment.

Condition 19 requires that Scottish Ministers consult with Stirling Council before approving proposals, and this requirement has been met. I have undertaken a formal consultation with the Council, beginning on 30 August which I extended from 30 days to 45. My officials have met with Stirling Council's Beauly Denny Steering Group on several occasions, and I recently did so myself to hear their views first hand.

So, in making this decision I have been mindful of the views of many in Stirling that the new line should be undergrounded.

Undergrounding the Beauly Denny upgrade in the Stirling area was comprehensively examined during the public inquiry, and subsequently in reports produced for Stirling Council, Scottish Power Transmission and our own consultants Ironside Farrar. I have considered all of the recent relevant reports on undergrounding of high voltage transmission lines.

Objective consideration leads me to conclude that the net reduction in impacts realised from undergrounding the route would be relatively modest in most locations, especially once the potential impacts of Sealing End Compounds are taken into account.

The evidence presented is that the undergrounding of 400kV line would require a Sealing End Compound at the points where the line is undergrounded and then resurfaces. These compounds would have a significant impact in their own right. Such compounds for a 400kV transmission line would be of a size upwards of 30 by 80 meters, almost as big as a football pitch. This would have to be accommodated into the landscape instead of the pylons.

Estimates for the cost of undergrounding vary, depending on the option, from £28.7 million pounds for a section of only 1.6km, to £263 million pounds for undergrounding the whole route covered by the Condition. I do not find it appropriate to seek approval from Ofgem for spending up to £263 million pounds of electricity consumers' money, especially a time of such economic difficulty. Given the issues and the limited environmental benefits undergrounding would bring, it simply cannot be justified.

Undergrounding is normally only considered as a mitigation intervention to address extra-ordinary circumstances; where major adverse impacts are predicted; and where it would be effective when other mitigation options are ruled out as ineffective.

While I have listened carefully to views from all sides, I agree with the findings of the Reporter as well as Ironside Farrar and have concluded that these exceptional circumstances do not apply to Stirling. The conclusion of the Public Inquiry and of my consultants was that the impacts of the consented line at Stirling are in the main "minor to moderate adverse".

And the prospect of programme delays is also important. A timely Beauly to Denny upgrade is critical to the future deployment of renewables, and the wider program of grid reinforcement required for Scotland to realise its enormous renewable potential.

Best estimates suggest that undergrounding the main Beauly Denny line would lead to a delay to the development of approximately two to three years.

Clearly, therefore, there would be financial impact in terms of restraining renewables. But the wider implications that such delays would have on grid improvements and renewables investment would carry even greater economic importance.

Overall, I conclude that the position of the Reporter to the public inquiry remains appropriate, namely that: having regard to the cost of the alternatives, the technical problems associated with it, and the limited environmental benefits it would offer, the case made for undergrounding has not been justified.

So, if it is not appropriate to underground the main 400kV line, the question remains as to how best can we further protect and support the communities affected.

Firstly, I have requested that the existing overhead 132 kV line from Fallin to Glenbervie is undergrounded.

This will carry a cost of £12.9 million pounds for 7km of steel pylons removed. This represents a much more efficient use of money than the £28.7 million pounds for a section of only 1.6km, or the £263 million for a section of 15km. And it will not delay the main Beauly Denny development.

And the costs are justified. The Reporter to the Public Inquiry recognised the benefits that this option would bring to the wider area, providing both landscape and visual benefits by reducing the wirescape. My consultants recognised the value of this proposal, surmising that it would produce direct landscape and visual benefits for south and east Plean by offsetting the impact of the proposed line, as well as providing both landscape and visual benefits to the wider area by reducing the wirescape.

I am satisfied that undergounding in this case is justified. Undergounding of an existing 132kV line is a different proposition to a 400kV line. It will be achieved at much lower cost, will not delay the project and will not require further Sealing End Compounds. It will deliver significant benefits, at manageable costs.

Secondly, I have asked that wider landscape enhancement is pursued, developing the Central Scotland Green Networks initiative in the area. My consultants have recommended a wider landscape enhancement scheme to deliver a range of benefits.

The costs of this won't be known until the relevant parties have worked together to develop a scheme. But I would ask you to consider for a moment what even a fraction of the money that some have proposed is spent on undergrounding could do for civic and landscape amenity in the area that will deliver long lasting benefits to communities in the Stirling area.

Such an enhanced scheme will also assist the Scottish Government make progress against a number of National Performance Indicators, namely:

Increase people's use of Scotland's outdoors (though the provision of foot and cycle paths)

Support biodiversity through the creation of woodland habitat

Reducing Scotland's carbon footprint by creating new woodland

Clearly, this will require cooperative working to be successful. Scottish Power Transmission must now work alongside Stirling Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission and other relevant parties, to develop a broad suite of proposals for widespread improvements to amenity in the area. Most importantly I would encourage the communities involved to actively engage with this process to facilitate environmental improvement in their area.

My opinion is that this represents an affordable option with the potential to provide substantial long lasting landscape, biodiversity and civic amenity benefits.

Particular mention has been made of the increase in wirescape where the consented line meets the existing Longannet to Denny twin overhead power line to the south east of Plean. This has been highlighted by both the pubic inquiry and Ironside Farrar as facing among the greatest impacts on amenity. This area will benefit significantly from the proposal to underground the 132 kV line, but will remain greatly affected by existing and new power lines. I have therefore asked that particular attention is given to this area.

Furthermore, I also take on board the views expressed on impacts on the Ochils Area of Great Landscape Value. Although the Reporter and my consultants agree that impacts here are not of a significance which affect the integrity of the AGLV, I have also asked that particular attention is paid to improving amenity in this area.

This is an extremely important issue, and I have been acutely conscious of the feelings of the communities in the area of the consented overhead line. Communities who have played an active role in this process and made a substantial contribution.

My decision represents a way forwards which maximises the potential benefits to the people of Stirling from the costs which are incurred by the public, and avoids delay to this crucial development.

I commend this decision to the Parliament.