The government regulator of gas and electricity, Ofgem, has started new talks with electricity companies and environmental bodies about the money available from 2015 to underground electricity poles and wires (called the undergrounding allowance).
Ofgem will consult these organisations over several years on how electricity should be distributed after 2015 between substations and homes.
The regulator intends to continue the present system of giving allowances to electricity companies for undergrounding poles and wires in only National Parks (including the Lake District) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs for short, eg. Arnside and Silverdale). Currently, National Park and AONB authorities, along with environmental charities, like Friends of the Lake District, give suggestions to electricity companies (eg. Electricity North West) on the places in these protected areas that would benefit most, in landscape terms, from undergrounding.
Friends of the Lake District project officer Amanda McCleery said: ‘We agree that this partnership is working well in the North West and that the undergrounding allowance should definitely continue. However, more could be done from 2015. At the very least, the allowance should be increased to enable undergrounding at heritage sites outside National Parks and AONBs, to include for example, registered commons and village greens, conservation areas in villages and parkland of stately homes.
‘Better still, if the allowance could be increased substantially to allow undergrounding in the wider countryside, outside National Parks and AONBs. At the moment the allowance will only bury electricity lines that are older than 15 years. So, Friends of the Lake District has also lobbied Ofgem that the allowance should cover all electricity lines, including new ones, after 2015.'
Ofgem has indicated that a strategy on electricity distribution, including undergrounding, will be published in September 2012 for electricity companies and environmental bodies to comment on, with Ofgem's decision on its strategy expected in February 2013. It will then be up to all the electricity companies to submit business plans to Ofgem on how they intend to implement its strategy. The money available to underground electricity poles and wires, under this new system, will be available from April 2015 for at least eight years.
Supporting this proactive work to reduce the harmful impact of overhead power lines and poles in the landscape, Friends will be working with National Grid, local planning authorities and other organisations to ensure that plans to introduce additional high voltage power lines in West Cumbria do the least amount of damage to the Lake District National Park. This should include an ‘under-sea' option, as well as undergrounding where any lines must run on land. Cumbria's economy is dependent upon its beautiful landscape and we will not accept the cheapest option.