Intelligent Energy

Wind turbines: pretty in pylon?

Wind turbines: pretty in pylon?

Posting in Design

Renewable energy, good. Transmission towers, bad. In scenic mid-Wales, it's the Godzilla-like electricity pylons that have locals opposing planned wind farms.

Powys county in Wales is a gorgeous part of the world. Steep verdant hills reach up to skies that turn strawberry at dusk. Velvety streams gently cascade along rocks worn smooth by the ages. People mistake this place for the UK’s renowned Lake District, poetically heralded by the likes of Wordsworth.

Wouldn’t it all look prettier with 50-meter (164-feet) electricity pylons running through it?

That’s what Britain’s National Grid – the publicly held company that runs the country’s transmission network - is considering.

In order to connect a series of planned wind farms to the electricity network, it wants to run transmission towers through some of Britain’s most unspoiled scenery, such as the valley in Powys pictured above near the town of Welshpool.

It plays into the UK’s national goal of generating 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, in an effort to cut CO2 emissions by reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Many locals aren’t having it. Drive through Powys, and you’d have to be asleep not to spot the ubiquitous, hand made “no pylon” signs scrawled everywhere (they’re not much more attractive than a pylon would be, but they sure make their point).

As the BBC reports,Wind turbines have long faced criticism from some local people, but complaints have grown since plans were unveiled for the substation and pylons.”

About 1500 people recently protested in the Welsh capital of Cardiff, including a handful who had walked 80 miles from Welshpool.

They Powys county council wants “a fresh look at all aspects” of the project, the BBC notes, “including the implications for transportation, the environment, health and construction.” It is also "insistent that power lines can and should be put underground."

The article quotes Powys councilor Dawn Bailey saying, "This is a beautiful part of the world, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. Concerns have been expressed that such extensive development, with all the associated visual intrusion and a construction and transport phase lasting many years, could threaten the economic livelihood of the area, as well as the wellbeing of residents and local businesses."

On June 28, Powys council will debate whether to call for a national review of the planned wind farms.

A spokeswoman for National Grid said, "We have not made a decision about what technology we will use [regarding power lines], whether it be underground, over ground or a combination of both.”

By some estimates, overhead cables would cost £178 ($288) million, while an underground route would cost £562($910 million).

Last month, the UK government launched a competition calling for architects and designers to turn transmission towers into works of art.

Whatever the outcome, it is a testimony to free speech that the discussion rages. Some would say it’s an economic impediment in a globally competitive economy. Could you imagine Beijing fielding requests for villagers’ feedback to a pylon plan?

Photo: Mark Halper

Related Post: My beautiful transmission tower

Share this

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure