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Consultation begins on electricity regulations

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Energy minister Malcolm Wicks announced on Tuesday a consultation on proposed amendments to electricity regulations with the primary aim of helping to make British electricity supply networks more resilient to adverse weather conditions.

The Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations 2002 (ESQCR) came into force on 31 January 2003 to improve safety and supply reliability standards across the country. Since these new regulations came into force, however, important issues have arisen that require amendments:

• The UK storms in October 2002, which resulted in about two million domestic consumers losing supplies for up to 10 days, highlighted the need to improve electricity network resilience in adverse weather conditions. Subsequent investigations have shown that the proximity of trees and branches to overhead lines is the one overriding factor that needs to be addressed to improve network resilience. The proposals will require electricity companies to develop more proactive policies and procedures to reduce the risk of inadvertent tree contact with overhead lines and thereby increase network resilience in adverse weather conditions. Over the period April 1998 to March 2004, there were more than 40,000 recorded instances of tree-related faults on both low- and high-voltage networks in Great Britain.

• Trees coming into contact with overhead power lines were also central factors in the major blackouts that affected about 50 million consumers on the east coast of the USA and Canada in August 2003 and a similar number of consumers in Italy in September 2003.

• The push for increased renewable energy generation has resulted in offshore generating stations becoming a reality and this is expected to expand considerably in the coming years. It is important that regulations to ensure public safety and address the risks of supply interruption apply equally offshore as well as onshore.

• The introduction of the ESQCR and the new requirement to harmonise cable core colours across the EU have resulted in an amendment to BS7671 (also known as the IEE Wiring Regulations, 16th Edition). The ESQCR need to reflect this.

• The special nature of overhead traction supplies was recognised in the drafting of the original ESQCR since railway networks were exempted. Further clarification is, however, required to ensure that tramways, trolleybuses and other guided vehicle systems have the same exemption as for railways.

The consultation will run until 2 September 2005.

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