Welsh protesters are up in arms over plans by the National Grid to erect lines of pylons through the stunning scenery of the Vyrnwy Valley in Wales, and parts of Shropshire. The pylons are apparently needed to connect Welsh wind farms to the National Grid (somewhere near the M6, so far as I can see). This is a timely reminder that the environmental and economic damage of wind turbines is not limited to the wind farms themselves. They also require something like £10 billion of up-grades to the grid, including new pylons. We have a grid designed around large stand-alone power plants. Now that the grid has to cope with distributed small-scale generation, it needs extensive adaptation.
Last weekend I was visiting friends in Shropshire. They (and presumably a great number of other local residents) had received a very glossy mailing pack from National Grid, including an attractive pull-out map showing the proposed route of the pylons. This was part of a “consultation”, and my friends were invited to submit their views.
No one over the age of three imagines that the consultation will make a scrap of difference to the outcome. They’re not doing it to find out the views of residents. They know those views perfectly well, from the widespread protests that have taken place, and are likely to become louder. No. They’re doing it so that if anyone asks, or seeks a judicial review of the decision process, they can say “But we had a consultation”. It’s all about ticking boxes and preparing their defences against future legal challenges. It has nothing whatever to do with “consultation” in the sense of seeking the views of the people.
I am reminded of the scandalous case (I think it was on the “regional government” issue) when they invited comment, but rated all comments, for and against, as “expressions of interest”, and therefore, by implication, endorsements of the plan. If the public disagree, ignore them.
It’s much the same with the Prime Minister’s “consultation” on same-sex marriage. He’s been honest enough to make it clear that it’s not about whether to introduce same-sex marriage, simply about how to introduce it. It hasn’t occurred to Dave that to invite consultation on the details, while denying it on the main issue, may cause offence. He’s happy to impose his own view, to affront a number of faith groups, and to undermine an institution that his government is pledged to protect.
Then there’s Andrew Lansley’s “consultation” on plain packs for cigarettes. This is a policy that flies in the face of free trade, free speech and freedom of choice. But it’s clear he’s made up his mind — and is probably encouraged by the recent decision against the industry in the Australian courts. The consultation is just for show. So that afterwards he can say “Well we consulted on it”. They are spending a great deal of money and effort on what amounts to a spurious attempt to create a veneer of democratic accountability for arbitrary government decisions.
The only good thing we can say about these consultations is that (like planning enquiries for wind farms) they may delay the bad news, and put off the evil day. For a little while.
One suggestion for Wales is that the new cables should be buried, or (as they say in the quaint argot of the industry) “Undergrounded”. This is an expensive solution, although the higher cost is partly mitigated by longer life and lower maintenance costs. Come to think of it, maybe the wind turbines could be “undergrounded” as well.