A significant opportunity to share part of its initial development costs with the National Grid has increased the pressure on the Northern Tidal Gateways Project (NTPGP) to move with alacrity into construction mode.
This follows the National Grid’s decision to install high voltage electricity cable between Moorside (Sellafield) and Heysham Nuclear Power Plant by 2026 which will require circumnavigation of both the Duddon and Morecambe Bay estuaries.
As Duddon and Morecambe Bay form stage one of the project, which involves construction of a tidal gateway with a road bridge spanning the estuaries, a combined development with National Grid – according to the National Energy Research Council – offers “a cost effective way of supporting the cable across the estuaries.”
Such a move should prove welcome to the National Grid which has recently unveiled plans to spend £1.2 billion on a 13 mile tunnel to take cable under Morecambe Bay to Lancashire and is currently faced with a dramatic escalation of costs overall.
The tunnel will form part of the latest corridor option chosen to link new sources of electricity including the proposed new nuclear power station at Moorside (Sellafield) into the grid in Cumbria and Lancashire.
A route running mainly offshore had been ruled out due to obstacles on the sea bed and concerns about the use of technology which hasn’t been used to connect a nuclear power station before.
As Robert Powell, Project Manager for the National Grid, explained at the time of the original announcement: “There are also a lot of people who would like us to put cables out of sight on the sea bed between Moorside and the Lancashire coast. We explained at the start of consultation that this wasn’t our preferred option. We’re not taking this forward for several reasons.
“NuGen, the company which is building Moorside, prefers the route we have chosen. They share our concern that offshore HVDC (high voltage direct current) cables have never been used to connect a nuclear power station. Using this untried technology could introduce risks for the Moorside project.
“The sea bed in this area is already congested with cables, gas pipes and wind turbines. There are thousands of rounds of unexploded ordinance out at sea from the Ministry of Defence’s Eskmeals firing range. Also, if an offshore cable develops a fault, it can take up to six months to repair.”
The project has been mired in controversy since the first corridor option was unveiled and eventually involved a costly volte face by the National Grid as they switched from planned pylons for the cross country part of the route to going underground. And this was despite the fact they had previously insisted it was too costly to bury the cable.
Originally the National Grid had planned to build 160ft-tall pylons through the national park, as part of the 100 mile plus cabling project along the west coast of Cumbria.
But this resulted in fierce opposition from campaigners under the banner of “Power Without Pylons” who warned the pylons would cause “irreversible damage to outstanding Lakeland landscsapes.” They insisted that the end result would devastate the scenery and jeopardise the Lake District’s bid for Unesco world heritage site status. “This would create an eyesore for generations to come,” said PWP Chairman Graham Pitts.
In its original announcement, the National Grid insisted it had chosen the corridor after five years of discussions with key national and regional bodies and thousands of conversations with people.
In all, there were 33 consultation events and consideration given to over 1,200 written responses, including 70 from local authorities and parish councils and 80 from a wide range of other bodies including the Lake District National Park, Friends of the Lake District, Natural England, English Heritage and the Environment Agency.
Now, because of the planned change, the National Grid is facing a substantial increase in costs. Building pylons along the 15-mile stretch would have cost between £585m and £70m, about one-seventh of the cost of the underground proposal.
In total, the 102-mile route is now estimated to cost £2.8bn, of which, according to the National Grid, some £1.9bn was spending “to help reduce the project’s potential effect on people, places and the environment”.
Now that the new route has been confirmed and the tunnel under Morecambe Bay remains an integral part of the plan, the Northern Tidal Power Gateways Project team intends to discuss the potential of using its proposed Gateway across Morecambe Bay and the Duddon together with connecting roads to carry cable as a truly cost-effective alternative.
“We feel a combined cost sharing development in Morecambe Bay would be in the best interests of both parties and we intend to initiate discussions as soon as possible,” says Alan Torevell, the chairman of Dewhurst Torevell.