Pay households to allow new pylons, government urged

The National Grid faces a radical overhaul - ITV News' Libby Wiener has the latest

Households could be paid to allow new pylons in their area under new proposals seeking to avoid protests against power grid improvements.

A report on Friday said Britain risks wasting a major achievement if it builds massive wind farms and nuclear sites without ensuring there are enough cables to take the new electricity to homes and businesses, an official report has warned.

As projects to build new lines keep getting held up, including due to local opposition, it could leave wind turbines and solar panels standing idle, and lead to higher costs for customers across the country.

The report, commissioned by the government and written by a former National Grid boss, said it is “both vital and challenging” to ensure the delivery of new grid connections speeds up.

It takes about 12 to 14 years to get new big transmission lines up and running, about twice the time it takes to put up a large wind farm, the report by electricity networks commissioner Nick Winser said.

This is slowing the transition to clean energy as developers of wind and solar farms are having to wait to have their sites connected to the grid.

Britain needs enormous new investment to deliver the clean electricity that will power cars, homes and industries in the future. Wind turbines, solar panels and other solutions have been popping up all over the country.

One of the trade-offs for the cheap energy that wind and solar farms can provide is that they are often smaller scale, rather than being one massive power plant.

This means that the grid needs to pull lots of smaller cables to many different power generation sites across the country, rather than enormous cables to few big coal plants.

Yet very few transmission lines have been built over the last 30 years.

Mr Winser said: “Delivering 50 gigawatts (GW) of new wind power and 24 GW of new nuclear will be a major step towards decarbonising our economy and providing customers with clean, secure, affordable electricity, but that magnificent achievement will be wasted if we cannot get the power to homes and businesses.

New wind farms need to be connected to the grid Credit: Tom Leese/PA

“The implications of being able to build wind generation faster than the associated connections to customers will be serious – very high congestion costs for customers and clean, cheap domestic energy generation standing idle, potentially for years.

“I believe that we must… reduce the overall timescale to seven years.

“I am confident that this is achievable as long as we streamline the process as proposed in the report and take a transparent, respectful and efficient approach when engaging with people and communities about the impact.”

The report included a series of recommendations for the government and regulators.

They include that financial returns for the companies that operate the transmission network should be linked to them successfully delivering the lines needed.

It also called for a campaign to explain to people why massive upgrades are necessary, for both the environment and also to keep the lights on and people’s homes warm.

Getting local communities on board should also include some kind of more direct benefit for them, the report said.

It suggested paying lump sums to individual households close to the infrastructure, and community funds that can be spent to upgrade people’s homes.

The report also said that supply chains and skills in the workforce are likely to be stretched over the coming years.

There is a big skills gap for engineers in the sector, the report said Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

Companies should ensure they have access to enough cables and the government must lead an effort to tackle the skills shortage.

The trade body for the energy sector said that the government needed to urgently respond to the recommendations.

“Cutting the time to plan and build network infrastructure is arguably the most pressing challenge facing the energy transition,” said Energy UK deputy director Adam Berman.

“We welcome Nick Winser’s recommendations, particularly the focus on strategic network planning as well as supply chain development and skills, and encourage the government to respond to these recommendations with urgency and ambition.”

Dan McGrail, chief executive of trade body RenewableUK, said: “Our electricity network is the single biggest barrier to delivering a zero-carbon power system by 2035.

“So we’re pleased that this timely report puts forward a series of constructive measures to speed up the pace at which the UK builds vital new grid infrastructure.

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“These recommendations will benefit billpayers across the country by ensuring that we maximise the vast quantities of cheap, clean power we’re generating from renewables, and that we can get it to British homes and businesses more efficiently.”

Energy security and net zero minister Grant Shapps said: “We must ensure we are taking full advantage of our success and getting the increased supply of homegrown, clean energy that we have at our fingertips to people’s homes and businesses for years to come.

“That is why we asked Nick Winser to carry out this review – I welcome his report and am grateful for his work.

“This is another important step as we continue to reform our energy system to drive down bills, grow the economy and ensure tyrants like Putin can never again use energy as a weapon of war.”