We have drawn together recent Political comments on under-grounding for ease of reference.
On 22/2/24, the Senedd Climate Change, Infrastructure, and Environment Committee (the CCEI) considered proposed amendments to the Infrastructure(Wales) Bill, which has now completed its second reading.
Adam Price SM put forward a number of amendments intended to probe and encourage debate. Directly relevant to new electricity infrastructure, was a suggestion that any proposal for new underground cables at 132KV, subject to a minimum length,should be defined as Significant Infrastructure projects, to be the subject of the consent process established by the Bill, whereas at present proposals for underground cabling can proceed as ‘permitted rights’ without the need for adjudication or consent.
Adam also put forward an amendment to discourage the use of pylons in ‘environmentally and culturally sensitive landscape areas,’ an amendment towards communities having a real benefit from new schemes,and Adam suggested an amendment towards seeking to tighten up the existing planning criteria to expand on the preferred position of Welsh Government that new electricity cables should be placed underground where possible.
The amendments which Adam suggested, were not incorporated into the Bill for different reasons, but served the intended purpose of triggering a focused discussion, within the Committee and with the Climate Change Minister who was present during consideration of the matters raised.
It is positive that Adam is keeping the debate as to undergrounding in the limelight.
Proposed amendments to the Bill put forward by Janet Finch-Saunders, were accepted in part, and we are grateful to Joel James, who deputised for Janet on 22/2, for making reference before the Committee to observations offered by the Llanarthne Area Community Pylon Group relevant to possible amendments to the Bill. It is positive that Joel was able to confirm support for undergrounding.
The Climate Minister made some very encouraging and helpful remarks during the discussion of proposed amendments. These supplement and built on the comments made by the Minister in a recent letter to responding to Eluned Morgan SM, confirming:’My officials have been in touch with the Company in West Wales who provide cable ploughing services. I have also raised the question of cable ploughing and the opportunity it presents for undergrounding new electricity networks with National Grid Electricity Transmission(NGET).’ ‘I consider it vital that we have a clear and evidence based and impartial perspective on the wider long term benefits and costs of undergrounding networks. I have asked my officials to develop proposals for establishing the principles I referred to in my oral statement of 8th November, which should include work to address this matter. I look forward to being able to say more on this important topic shortly.’
We are pleased to note the lead and direction taken by the Climate Minister.
Last but certainly not least, Cefin Cambell SM was able to raise undergrounding by cable ploughing in questions to the First Minister in the Senedd on 29/2/24. Cefin made reference to the use of undergrounding using cable ploughing in nations such as Germany and Denmark,and Cefin stated that cable plough allows the placement of ‘over a kilometre of cables per day, which is far less damaging to the environment and is more cost effective in terms of transmitting energy. ‘The First Minister was positive in his response, echoing the positive indications made by the Climate Minister. The First Minister repeated that ‘The policy is that electricity transmission cables should be placed underground where possible, not just in designated landscapes but where possible.’ The First Minister continued:’ I have also read what has been done in other nations to create new ways of putting electricity lines underground.I know that the Minister is aware of those developments too, and she is considering whether there are new possibilities for us to implement our policy.’
Extracts from the CCEI meeting on 22/2/24:
Adam Price: Perhaps the committee is already aware that there are several nations that place all electric lines of 132 kV underground—the Netherlands, I believe, and Denmark. And truth be told, there are other nations, such as Germany, that are starting to place far higher voltage lines—400 kV—underground. And this policy shift towards placing electricity lines underground has led to a great deal of innovation within this field of placing electricity lines underground, which has led to a significant decrease in the comparative cost, as compared to above-ground electric lines. And I’m aware, Chair, that you have an item on the agenda later on that you’ve discussed already with regard to cable ploughing, which is a relatively new method of undergrounding, but that has significant financial and environmental benefits as compared to traditional methods of undergrounding through the construction of ditches. Wales has a company that specialises in this field, and I believe that the Minister has visited that company already, or intends to do so. We also have companies in Wales that manufacture cables to be undergrounded, and there has been a great deal of innovation in those processes too, with regard to improving the reliability and carbon footprint of underground electricity lines.
Joel James: Welsh Conservatives support underground and not cables overhead. The amendment would be a positive step to encourage action to address the wider problem that the process of deciding whether underground is more expensive than overhead is now fundamentally flawed. Indeed the most comprehensive cost comparison is a 2012 report by consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff—I hope I’ve pronounced that right. Whilst the report found the cost of installing new power connections underground is always more expensive than installing overhead lines, that finding may no longer be valid today when considering the advancement of technology since 2012 and the greater use of techniques—as Adam outlined—such as cable ploughing.
I do believe that urgent action is required by the Welsh Government to establish if undergrounding new electricity lines is more expensive than overhead lines and pylons. Whilst we are waiting for the scales to tip in favour of undergrounding, amendment 194 will further help reduce the plague of pylons in rural areas.
The Climate Minister:
Welsh planning policy starts from a presumption that the grid should be underground wherever possible, to reduce visual impact. That is already the Welsh Government’s policy. I absolutely support this policy by making the consenting of underground cables as easy as possible. It is now already the case that underground electric lines are a permitted development in many places, and that facilitates their roll-out. If you brought the undergrounding of electric cables in their entirety into this regime, you would actually have the opposite effect, by increasing their cost and making them go through planning cycles where they’re currently permitted development.
I will say, though, Adam, that I’m more than happy to work with you—and you’re right that I have visited the company; I am very keen on undergrounding, and the Welsh Government policy is to underground it—to have a look at whether we can strengthen ‘Planning Policy Wales’ in any way to make that a much more inherent part of the system. I have a lot of sympathy with what you say.
I have just spent an enormous amount of Welsh public money restoring peatlands right across mid and west Wales. I obviously don’t want them dug up for cables, nor do I want them crossed by pylons. So, there are lots of things where what you’re actually talking about is an alternative route, and if you look at a map of Wales with a policy hat on, which I don’t think we should be doing today, but, if we did do that, you would see that there are routes that we all can see are the only real routes that are viable for big transmission networks.
Llanarthne Area Pylon Group —————————————

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