Hundreds of thousands of homes across Britain will be in view of electricity pylons under a massive net zero expansion of the energy grid.
Three hundred towns and villages across rural England and Wales could be impacted by the thousands of electricity pylons needed to expand the National Grid to meet net zero targets, a government report has warned.
The figure is the first to show the scale of National Grid’s planned three-fold expansion and how it might affect the towns and villages whose gardens and landscapes become overlooked by new pylons.
The report estimates that the current network of pylons, cables and other infrastructure already intrudes on the gardens and the surrounding landscape of nearly 300,000 mainly rural households. The figure suggests that the planned threefold increase in grid capacity could double or triple that total.
National Grid has so far not released estimates of the lengths of new cabling and pylons it plans, nor of the numbers of people and properties potentially affected. A National Grid spokesman said it was too early to give actual numbers.
However, critics say National Grid is avoiding giving such data for fear of a backlash.
Ministers believe expansion of the grid is crucial to hitting net zero targets but are concerned about a potential backlash to eyesore infrastructure rolled out at scale across the country.
Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, sought to head off concerns in the Autumn Statement by announcing plans to give people who live near new pylons and electricity substations up to £1,000 a year off their energy bills.
Government documents analysing the potential cost of compensating people covered by the policy suggests that at least 300 communities will be affected. Compensation is estimated to cost up to £9bn, all of which would be added to consumer power bills over 10 years.
The report said: “In Great Britain, four times as much new transmission network will be needed in the next seven years as was built since 1990.
“This will mean more communities across the country living close to electricity transmission network infrastructure.”
National Grid currently has 22,000 pylons carrying about 4,500 miles of high-voltage cable.
Its own data shows it is planning a 3-fold increase in capacity by 2035 – implying it will need many thousands of miles more of pylons and cables.
Such projects are likely to escape local planning scrutiny and opposition, instead being fast-tracked through the planning system.
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) is devising sweeping planning reforms that it says are vital if the UK is to hit key net zero milestones such as eliminating fossil fuel generation by 2035.
Without action, ministers are worried the grid could be overwhelmed by surging demand as households switch to electric cars and heat pumps. A boom in generation from offshore wind and other renewables could also overwhelm the transmission network.
Earlier this year, National Grid launched its Great Grid Upgrade initiative, the largest overhaul of the electricity grid in generations. It will initially involve nine major onshore projects worth a combined total of £4.5bn.
Protest groups have already sprung around Britain along the lines of planned new transmission lines. East Anglia is one of the worst-affected areas because the seas off its coastline are shallow enough to allow the construction of many new wind farms. Each will need an onshore connection to the National Grid.
One of the most controversial projects would see a 112 mile-long (180km) power line constructed across East Anglia.
The Norwich to Tilbury development would see 520 pylons, each 164 feet tall, supporting a new high voltage electricity transmission line between Norwich in Norfolk, Bramford in Suffolk and Tilbury in Essex. It would carry offshore wind farm-generated electricity through the Waveney Valley towards London.
Last month the leaders of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk county councils called on National Grid to rethink their plans and opt for offshore cables instead - an option also backed by the Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk Pylons Action Group.
26,000 residents have registered their opposition to the scheme and the scale of the opposition is thought to have played a key role in the Government’s move towards offering cash to win acceptance.
DESNZ plans to publish details of the compensation scheme, including discounts on power bills and community benefits, in early 2024.
A spokesman said: “We’re driving forward the biggest reforms to our electricity grid since the 1950s – halving the time it takes to build networks, speeding up grid connections, supporting thousands of jobs and reducing bills in the long-term for families.”