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Wednesday, 01 October 2014

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Grid’s tunnel vision for Morecambe Bay

AHUGE tunnel under Morecambe Bay has emerged as the preferred way of transporting new power cables from Cumbria to the grid.

By AMY FENTON

National Grid is looking to install new power cables in a bid to connect a proposed nuclear power station in West Cumbria and a number of offshore windfarms to the grid.

The project will mean a major overhaul of the existing network, and National Grid has revealed its preferred option is to install new cables from West Cumbria to Carlisle and new cables from West Cumbria to Heysham via a massive tunnel below Morecambe Bay.

National Grid said there were no plans to incorporate any kind of transport system for vehicles as part of the tunnel.

Other possible routes include new cabling across South Cumbria from west to east and an offshore route which would go out into the Irish Sea before coming back on land at Blackpool.

Work is not expected to start until the next decade. Although an estimated cost of the project is yet to be confirmed, it is believed it could cost as much as £3bn.

Cost estimates for an overhead cable are between £2.52m and £3.02m per kilometre while the cost for an underground cable ranges from £12.86 to £31.50m.

Offshore cable costs £1.95m per km plus £332m for a pair of converter stations. There are no cost estimates for the tunnel.

National Grid’s project manager Robert Powell said: “The discussions we’ve had over the course of several years have given us invaluable information which has helped us develop and refine the options for connecting new power generation into our network.

“We’re now at a crucial stage of our project.

“We’re getting ready to share with local communities all the work that we have done to date and to seek their views on our findings, including what we have identified as our ‘emerging preference’ at this point.

“We promise to listen, to learn from what we hear and then to seek to develop the project in a way which achieves a balance between meeting our country’s future energy needs and protecting the very special landscapes it touches upon.”

National Grid has been working on the project for the last five years, with concerns being raised about the project’s potential impact on the Cumbrian landscape.

In 2011, Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock and his Westmorland and Lonsdale counterpart Tim Farron both said the cables should run underground.

Mr Farron said at the time: “If we see large amounts of new cabling and pylons being built across the countryside, it would be a damaging blow to our world-class landscape.

“However, if National Grid chooses to take the cables under Morecambe Bay, as I have consistently argued, then for not much extra expense they will ensure protection for our landscape and the surrounding environment.”

Mr Woodcock added: “If we want the jobs and investment Cumbria’s Energy Coast can bring, new power lines will have to go somewhere.

“But we also need to protect the precious landscapes that South Cumbria’s residents and visitors value so much.”

It is likely that the high-voltage wires would be supported by 152ft-high pylons, spaced 400 yards apart.

In September, National Grid will embark on a consultation process.

Cumbria Tourism is just one of the organisations which has been working with National Grid so far.

Richard Greenwood, head of operations at Cumbria Tourism, said: “We’ve been working alongside a number of other organisations with National Grid to ensure that they understand the sensitivities of the work they are seeking to do in this part of the country.

“We all need electricity and want to pay a reasonable price for it but we also need to find a way of making these connections in a way that treads as lightly as possible on our beloved landscape.”

Based on feedback and an initial consultation in 2012, National Grid took two connection options forward for further development.

Work since then has focused on looking at onshore routes to the north of the site of the proposed power station where the potential exists to follow the path of existing power lines operated by Electricity North West.

To the south of Moorside, National Grid considered routes following the path of existing lines as well as routes across Morecambe Bay and through the Irish Sea.

Where routes follow Electricity North West lines, there could be scope to remove some existing pylons.

A website has been launched – northwestcoastconnections.com – for residents to access for information and details on consultation events.

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