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Gossage: Gossip June 15

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A plague of pylons
A terrifying army of “nude giant girls”. That is how the peerless poet Stephen Spender described the electricity pylons that went up right across Britain in the 1920s.

Now National Grid has erected the first of a new generation of pylons. And to be frank, they are every bit as visually awful. Although shorter than their predecessors, the white “T-pylons” resemble most of all cut-price ski-lift supports.


It is amazing that a country so dependent upon the attractions of its landscapes – both financially for tourism as well as emotionally – puts up with these complete eyesores, when the cables could just as easily be buried.

Instead we let the Grid make a big deal of burying cables in a handful of iconic sites, whilst pressing ahead with cheaper overground pylons everywhere else. Simply to make more profits for shareholders.

A political party dedicated to preserving the best in our countryside – hence the party’s name – returned to government back in 2010. But Conservative politicians seem nowadays to have a totally cavalier attitude to our landscapes. After five years during which our public forests only narrowly escaped privatisation, and developers have been allowed to ride roughshod over local opinion, it is clear that nothing – except the shape of the pylons – has changed.

Opera in a sheltered spot
Three years ago, the management of Glyndebourne Opera House erected a 330 ft. high wind turbine that towers over the otherwise unspoiled Sussex Downs. And infuriates residents in the local village of Ringmer, many of whom fought hard to stop it.

Advised by former Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Stewart Boyle, the Opera House nonetheless managed to win a 25-year operating license, on the understanding it would be super-efficient. It would, Glyndebourne promised, produce an average electricity output of 28% of its maximum capacity.  And so the Christie family who own Glyndebourne received the usual whopping handout funded by you and I , available to windfarm developers.

But 28% of maximum capacity is the kind of output performance that only the most exposed, and hence windiest, locations like bleak Scottish or Yorkshire moors can ever aspire to achieving. Whereas the Glyndebourne turbine is to be found in a very sheltered spot down in the Sussex Downs.

It has now been revealed the average output being achieved is not 28%, but just 17.5% of maximum capacity. That is just over half of that promised to the local authority, and amongst the worst performances to be found anywhere in the country.  Despite this, Glyndebourne management purports to claim that the turbine “continues to exceed its target in the third year of operation.”

Given the number of the Great and the Good who will surely be visiting Glyndebourne this summer, to picnic in its glorious grounds between attending works by Britten, Handel and Mozart, let us hope there are one or two who will be able to challenge this outrageous waste of money and resources.

Seriously underestimating Amber
You may recall that, in my Gossip Column published in February’s issue of Electrical Review, I raised doubts about the level of personal commitment to becoming a junior energy minister of the Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, a seat won by just 1,993 votes from Labour in 2010.

I suggested that, for the dying months of the Coalition government, she was effectively just holding the fort, with few if any opportunities to alter policy at all. Just as well. Up until her appointment, she had shown no obvious interest in energy policy, or climate change policy, or fuel poverty. I reported that her civil servants remained unconvinced that she was at all interested in any of these topics that make up her official responsibilities.

Certainly she endlessly turned down opportunities to speak at conferences. When she did, she tended to put her head down and read in a monotone from the text her officials provided. All this led many to question why she had accepted the prime minister’s invitation last July. I was one of those doubters.

And then, I revealed an old hand on the political scene had explained her game plan to me. She obviously reckoned it extremely unlikely she would be re-elected on 10 May. But she understood clearly employment prospects in life after parliament are substantially improved if you can bill yourself as a former minister in Her Majesty’s government. As opposed to a one-term lobby fodder obscurity.

But last month, not only did Hastings & Rye remain a Conservative constituency, but its MP was also promoted to the Cabinet. I accept here and now  I may have seriously underestimated the Rt Hon Amber Rudd, the new Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change.  And MP for Hastings & Rye.

Nuclear reactor flaw
A major flaw has been detected in a new generation French nuclear reactor that, if confirmed, would prove a major blow. Both to France’s nuclear industry. And the UK government’s entire electricity strategy.
The European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) has long been billed as the safest and most efficient reactor in the world. It was always designed to showcase French nuclear expertise abroad. But now its developers, the State –owned corporation Areva, are admitting a serious weakness has been found in the steel of a crucial 425-tonne “pressure vessel” being installed in the (already much-delayed) new plant under construction in Flammanville, in the northwest of France.

Experts are now warning that the problem may simply be too expensive to fix. And that ultimately the entire EPR programme may have to be scrapped.

That would cause a major headache for the UK. Exactly the same steel has long since been approved by UK regulators for the two new power stations planned at Hinkley Point in Somerset. And indeed for all the other dozen EPRs that former energy secretary, (indeed former MP) Ed Davey, had been hell-bent on littering around the British countryside.

Elinore Mackay

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