Residents living in the shadow of a proposed giant pylon network are so opposed to the scheme that they would be willing to pay almost £200 each per year to have power lines laid underground.
Plans by Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Ltd (SHETL) to erect 600 towering turbines across some of the most scenic areas of the country have generated an angry backlash.
Now research from Stirling University has outlined the extent of opposition among people living close to the proposed route and has found that they would be willing to pay substantial sums to have the power lines placed underground.
Professor Nick Hanley of the university’s economic department contacted more than 300 residents whose homes would be in sight of the 137-mile electricity line which would run from Beauly, near Inverness, to Denny, south of Stirling.
His research has revealed that 80% of respondents believe the overhead transmissions pylons – which will be around 200ft high – would have a “negative or very negative impact” compared to just 8% who thought it would be “positive or very positive”.
The environmental economics expert also gave residents a straight choice on whether they would be willing to pay a higher price for their electricity to have the power lines placed underground or to pay no increase and have the line constructed above ground as proposed.
A majority of those surveyed, in communities around Stirling, Falkirk, Dunblane and Bridge of Allan said they would be willing to hand over an average of £180 a year extra in their bills to prevent giant pylons being erected on their doorsteps.
Hanley said: “A clear majority of respondents are opposed to the scheme and would be willing to pay quite substantial sums for the undergrounding of the line.
“I would now like to see an independent assessment being carried out to find out what the costs would be of putting the line underground.
“It may prove to be the better solution in the longer term. The majority of households in the area are opposed to the proposed line due to the fact that it will disfigure the landscape and this is reflected in the stance taken by local authorities along the route.
“From an economics viewpoint, a reasonable response to such opposition would be to evaluate the strength of public preferences for the alternative, which is undergrounding the line.”
Caroline Paterson, of the campaign group Stirling Before Pylons, said: “This survey shows just how strongly the public feels on this issue.”
But any costs of laying cables underground should be shared, she said.
“The question of how much extra individuals living near the proposed route should pay is unreasonable,” she said. “We all benefit from the transmission of electricity, and it is therefore for everyone to share the cost of responsible transmission.”
A similar development in North Yorkshire was put underground following objections raised during a public inquiry.
The Beauly to Denny plans have led to the largest public inquiry in Scotland’s history and is ongoing. So far, the four local authorities across whose land the pylons will be located have placed objections, as has the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
The Scottish Government has also received 17,295 objections plus a 10,000-signature petition against the scheme.
SHETL insists the upgrade is essential to take power from proposed renewable energy schemes in the Highlands and Islands.
By Marc Horne
23 September 2007
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