Campaigners fighting controversial plans for a high-voltage overhead electricity line in the Highlands have condemned attempts by the developer to pass on its public inquiry costs to customers.
Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has asked government regulator Ofgem for permission to recoup an estimated £6.9 million for its participation in the Beauly to Denny public inquiry via customers’ bills.
The company, which earlier this year reported record profits of more than £1 billion, maintains the additional costs to customers would be negligible.
Ofgem will start a public consultation later this month but SSE’s request has prompted criticism from MSPs and opponents to the plans for a 400kV overhead powerline supported by pylons up to 65 metres high.
Kiltarlity Community Council, which was represented at the inquiry’s month-long local session in Inverness earlier this year, is urging Ofgem to refuse the request.
“It would appear SSE has been able to keep a detailed record of proceedings – the sort of record denied to small objectors and to the public – and aim to recover the cost of this, along with the rest of the huge expenses they are incurring,” a spokesman said.
“We have been able to participate, though to a limited extent, at the inquiry entirely at the expense of unpaid volunteers while SSE has operated with a large highly-paid team of advocates and other professionals.”
The community council said the company stood to make huge gains from the transmission line and generation and distribution associated with it but there would be no share of profits in the form of community benefit for areas getting the pylons and also that the inquiry could have been avoided had the company been willing to discuss undergrounding.
Floris Greenlaw estimated it cost herself and neighbours in the community of Kinerras in Strathglass about £200 to make representations at the inquiry. “I think it is ridiculous SSE should be thinking of passing the costs on to customers, considering everyone else has to pay their own costs, even individuals,” Mrs Greenlaw said.
There was also astonishment from politicians including Highlands and Islands regional Labour MSP David Stewart.
“This is an attack on democracy,” he declared. “Irrespective of the public being for or against the Beauly/Denny transmission line, they have a right to express their views. There is a basic human right involved in this and SSE is putting an impediment in the way of public expression and participation.”
John Farquhar Munro, Lib Dem MSP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West, said SSE had forced communities to seek an inquiry to make their voices heard.
“They have since spent millions of pounds representing themselves, dwarfing anything which community-based organisations could ever raise,” he said.
“It cannot be right that the company should be protected from the commercial consequences of those decisions.”
Local people had worked hard to fund their own participation and to give some voice to Highland communities and businesses. “Now it seems they are being asked, with consumers across the UK, to fund the other side of the argument as well,” he said.
An SSE spokesman explained the company was seeking to have the inquiry costs assessed as an income adjustment to its transmission licence. “The total costs we expect to incur as pre-construction costs are £2.1 million in 2006/07 and £4.8 million in 2007/08,” he said.
“These additional costs will be added to the total of the transmission licence revenues which for the whole of the UK are in excess of £1 billion. Once passed onto customers, these revenues account for just two to three per cent of customer’s bills – or about £2.75 in 2006/07. As such, we would expect the impact of the additional Beauly-Denny costs to be negligible for customers.”
Ofcom expects to launch a public consultation via its website www.ofgem.gov.uk later this month.
By Val Sweeney
10 August 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding