Thu, 20 June 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
EDF’s priorities for the next UK Government: a call to action Partner content
How the UK can unlock the opportunities of the global expansion of offshore wind Partner content
Press releases

Upgrading to a net-zero grid means we must make sure affected communities benefit directly

3 min read

To get to net-zero, Britain needs to build five times more electricity grid infrastructure in the next six years than it has in the past three decades.

Bringing communities along with us as we build will be challenging, but vital if we are to do it cost-efficiently. Making community benefits for hosting new grid infrastructure mandatory is our best chance to do so. 

One of the government’s biggest net-zero wins is the growth of our offshore wind industry; the UK is home to the five largest offshore wind farms in the world, and the sector’s 31,000-strong workforce is set to more than triple by 2030 – driven by £155bn of private investment. 

With offshore wind comes the need to transmit its clean electricity to households, but current infrastructure can’t always handle it. Offshore wind is more remote and intermittent than the coal and gas power plants the old grid used. This means that when the wind blows in the wrong place or at the wrong time, operators are paid to switch off and avoid overloading the system. This cost over half a billion pounds last year, potentially rising to £4bn by 2030 unless we build new transmission to cope with power from new projects coming online. 

A report released last month by the Electricity Systems Operator (ESO) outlined plans for a new “electrical spine” of pylons and substations to reduce grid congestion and cut the cost of moving electricity around the UK. A project of this scale comes at a cost: the upgrades require roughly £60bn in investment. This looks like a large number but amounts to £20-30 on individual bills – less than 1 per cent of an average household’s annual energy spend. 

This will be offset by consumer savings from a more efficient system; a grid with more space for generation will not make nearly as many payments to wind farms to switch off. Upgrading power lines could also boost our energy security by enabling us to consume more homegrown electricity for less money. 

For communities where this new infrastructure is built, its benefits are not always felt immediately. Whilst only a handful experience disruptive construction works, the benefits of an expanded grid are felt across the entire system. 

A majority of voters in several Conservative-held constituencies with proposed energy projects support building pylons and power lines in their area, but poor community engagement from some developers has diminished attitudes towards local development. Some residents dislike the visual impact of pylons, as well as disruption from their construction. This can stoke the feeling of being excluded from the discussion and fuels the perception of not directly benefiting from the infrastructure they host.

This is where mandatory community benefits can help. The idea is that for every new substation and kilometre of power lines, nearby residents could get up to £10,000 off their electricity bills and over £200,000 for local projects. Government figures indicate this could increase a project’s chances of avoiding delays by at least 59 per cent. 

However, keeping guidance voluntary – as the government is looking at now – risks perpetuating a piecemeal approach, which sees some communities have great relationships with local developers but too many feel hard done by. Mandatory benefits could also help boost developers’ certainty of their projects’ approval; if developers know what they need to provide, and communities know they will get it, this could reduce appeals and help cut costs of keeping planning lawyers and consultants on retainer. 

To realise “electrical spine” ambitions, the government should make its community benefits offer mandatory. Local projects should directly benefit the communities that host them, which in turn will increase the speed of transmission rollout and lower bills across the board. 

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.


net zero


Engineering a Better World

The Engineering a Better World podcast series from The House magazine and the IET is back for series two! New host Jonn Elledge discusses with parliamentarians and industry experts how technology and engineering can provide policy solutions to our changing world.

NEW SERIES - Listen now