History is repeating itself in the UK, with a new generation of electricity towers breeding fear and local campaigning against National Grid.
The power company is attempting to impose its latest upgrade on the grounds of netzero – decarbonisation. But its arguments do not stand up to scrutiny say locals, who point out that the new pylons are far more expensive than the old, and have not been permitted anywhere else in the country so far, despite a 2035 decarbonisation deadline.
These new pylons are a world first and the result of more than a decade of planning, consultation, and installation.
And the plan is that more will be installed across the country as part of the Government’s ambitions to expand the energy grid to facilitate the move to Net Zero. Up close they look like steel obelisks standing 35m tall, equipped with two arms, strung with cables capable of carrying 400,000 volts of electricity. From a distance, they resemble a string of golf tees, winding their way up the Somerset landscape towards Avonmouth in the county’s north. Starkly white and solid, waiting to inherit the cables from their lattice-framed ancestors.
More than one hundred are expected to be installed and energised by 2024, as part of a project to connect new sources of low-carbon energy to homes and businesses, including Hinkley Point C, EDF Energy’s new nuclear station in Somerset.
In Rooks Bridge, directly beneath the overhead power lines, Gary Robinson ran a caravan campsite for 20 years. When builders descended in 2020, he was forced to close his business which now sits less than 100m away from one of the new pylons. When it rains, or the wind is strong, the noise is “enormous”, Robinson says.
Pylons of any kind generate audible whistling noise in high wind speeds and a buzzing noise in moisture. But T-pylon cables are gathered closer to the ground and residents have complained the effect is far worse than previously installed lattice pylons.
A National Grid spokesman said anyone directly affected by the scheme is eligible to submit a claim for any loss incurred under the compensation code, saying: “We always recommend that people who believe they have a claim seek appropriate independent professional advice.”
But Robinson, whose campsite licence was revoked on account of the noise and building work, says “proof of loss” is difficult.
Across the road, three empty properties, all recently refurbished but now 50m from a T-pylon, sit empty. Claire Feenie, who has lived on a secluded road in Cote for 21 years, watched as an old pylon opposite her home was replaced with one of the new systems two years ago. Now, she can see the structure from her conservatory. She can hear it too.
The pensioner, 74, says the new pylons were “more of an eyesore” than their older counterparts. “It’s because they’re solid. The old pylons – you could see through them. We’ve had really strong winds. It sounds really spooky. It’s a horrid noise and we weren’t warned about it,” she adds.
Locals were consulted about the new pylons over a five-year period. But until the first wave was installed in Somerset, no one had seen an example of what they really looked like in situ. Landowners with a pylon installed on their land are paid a flat fee of £7,000.
Graham Harris, 67, who runs Cripps Farm caravan park in Highbridge and has two pylons on his land, says he had a “good relationship” with National Grid. However, he says his customers can hear a “whistling noise” whenever winds were “anything over four or five miles an hour”.
Harris also believes the presence of the pylons, which are now closer to the site, has had an effect on his internet. “We’ve just spent £30,000 having internet put in. It was so bad we couldn’t send documents through.”
Pylons hurt house prices
Homeowners hoping to sell up to escape the pylons could face a dramatic fall in their property’s value, studies suggest.
Research by Oxford Brooks university found living close to overhead power lines reduced the selling price of a house by up to 38pc. Homes within 300m of a pylon sold for as much as a third of the price of similar properties in the area, the 2005 study found.
It added that valuers and agents underestimate the effect of overhead high-voltage lines on property values. Property advisers estimate the negative effect on house prices to be much lower – at five to 10pc.
Those looking to sell may also find it more difficult to find a potential buyer. Homes near overhead power lines can stay on the market for months longer than properties further away, and vendors often have to accept 12pc less than the asking price.
The next generation of pylon
This project has been more than a decade in the making. National Grid held a competition in 2011 to decide on a new design, which was eventually won by a Danish firm called Bystrup. The new breed of T-pylons was lined up for the Hinkley Line Project two years later. By 2015, National Grid began consulting residents on the project, and said it received 11,000 responses.
This consultation period lasted five years. Those surveyed expressed a preference for the newer pylon, believing them to be less intrusive on the landscape. A paper published alongside the proposals found that, though the noise level between the two types of pylon was the same, the range of noise for T-pylons extended 50m further than their lattice counterparts.
A spokesman for National Grid said the Hinkley Connection Project uses “the quietest twin power line system we operate”.
It was not until 2021 that the world’s first T-pylon was installed in Somerset. Two years later, the line is still incomplete: 116 are to be on the connection project, but at the time of writing just 36 have been built and energised.
The remaining 80 will be completed and energised by 2024, National Grid said.
The original pylon was first designed almost 100 years ago, in 1927. Just as in 2011, a competition was held among designers, and the Milliken Brothers, an engineering company based in the US, were declared the victors with their Eiffel Tower-like design.
Now an estimated 22,000 of them are on the transmission network in England and Wales. National Grid spends roughly £1.3bn a year adapting and maintaining its network of pylons.
Despite the hundred-year gap, the new pylons are functionally no different from their predecessors. Both types transport the same high voltage. They are, however, more expensive to produce. National Grid said costs of securing land rights can vary, but the T-pylon frames themselves are always more costly on account of containing more steel than traditional frames.
They have also become more expensive as the project has gone on. The first wave was built entirely in Britain, but the South Wales company responsible for producing the bodies no longer exists. They are now imported from China.
A spokesman for National Grid said its ambition “would be for them to be manufactured in Great Britain”.
National Grid staff are menacing locals
As the 2050 deadline for Net Zero draws near, more infrastructure will be needed to meet the increasing electricity demands of households switching from gas boilers to heat pumps, and from petrol cars to EVs. Inevitably, this will mean more pylons need to be built.
Last year, John Pettigrew, CEO of National Grid, said: “We will need to build about seven times as much infrastructure in the next seven or eight years than we built in the last 32.”
The Government has set the target of decarbonising the power system by 2035 and becoming a net exporter of electricity by 2040. But as of yet, no plans are in place for more T-pylons. From conception to construction, the process can take years.
Roughly £900m was earmarked for the Hinkley Project, and has been paid for by household bills. National Grid estimates this averages out to £20 per household every year.
The National Grid says it does not have current planning consent for any other T-pylons at the moment, saying each new project is assessed on a case-by-case basis – does not rule out further installation, saying more T-pylons would be considered.