Stupid Question on the Day

The clearly not very bright Infrastructure Planning Commission asks a really stupid question.

There are those who say there are no stupid question. Those people are wrong there are many stupid questions, this is one of them. In this case it’s stupid as the IPC clearly can’t read, National Grid have already outlined why they chose those options in a lovely report.

Now they may disagree with the report, that would be a perfectly acceptable position, but that’s not what they’re asking for. They’re asking National Grid to explain something they’ve already explained.

Of course I suppose the other explanation is that the BBC, with it’s renowned ineptitude for science and engineering, has just grasped the wrong end of the stick. But given that the IPC is a fag-end of Labour government idea that was never properly thought through in the first place, and one which the Tories have promised to scrap, I suspect they probably haven’t recruited the highest calibre staff making PIC cock-up the clear favourite. Indeed as the IPC wont have any powers till May this year, at which point the General Election will have been called and the forces of darkness thrown out of power and into eternal damnation, I’d be surprised if anyone other than the desperate or otherwise unemployable went for it. Two descriptions which will hopefully describe most Labour Party MPs later this year.

Leaving such joyous thoughts to one side on a purely engineering view point this is either going ahead as overhead lines or not happening at all. As Hinkley Point C is going ahead (it’s that or deprive the people of the South West of their electricity, something they like having even if they fear it’s mysterious nature) then the cable upgrade has to happen, power sitting in a power station is sod all use to anyone.  To briefly demolish the IPC options;

  • Using the Bristol Channel would be at least 3x more expensive (~£700 million compared to ~£2 billion), pretty much kill any idea of a tidal barrage and comes with endless technical headaches about voltages, capacities and the trivial issue no-one has ever built anything like it before.
  • Underground option. Now personally I’m in favour, but that’s only because as a tunneller we’d make an absolute killing of it. Based on the National Grid work in London I’d estimate something like £1 billion to build and equip the cable tunnel. Then all the boosters, substations and general refit work need on the rest of the network is say £0.5 billion (assuming the overhead route costed £200 million which seems about right). So at least £1.5 billion the lot, plus the fun and games of the local ground conditions (limestone rock not soft London Clay) which should jack it up a bit more compared to the London work.

Now as I say I like the tunnel option, the amount I’d pay in extra electricity bills will be more than covered by the extra work in the  tunnelling industry. However for anyone else it is a really bad deal, better than the under the sea route perhaps, but not by much. Plus of course even if it is a tunnel people will still whine so really it’s not worth trying to please local residents, they will never be happy.

However in the spirit of compromise I suggest not one but two alternate solutions.

1. All the NIMBYs personally pay the extra cost of the tunnels. They get what they want and everyone else doesn’t have to subsidies it.

2. They promise to stop using any electricity. Without their load on the grid we probably don’t need a new power station in the area.

In the unlikely event neither of those options work I suggest we just put the complainers up against a wall and shoot them for being wilfully uncooperative. It’s the only way they’ll learn.


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