Pylons

Pylon of the Month - April 2022

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I'm planning to post April's pylon early in the month by way of atonement for not posting in March. Life just got too busy and (as usually happens when I skip a month) the can kept getting kicked down the road until I ran out of days. Part of the reason was that the end of March was spent in Bordeaux and although I could have gone full digital nomad and blogged from a cafe, I was too busy seeing the sights and enjoying the wonderful food and drink! 

Back to this month's pylon, which I snapped whilst on the bus back to Bordeaux airport. If I'd woken up, unsure of where I was, then the pylon design would have alerted me to the fact that I wasn't in the UK. Sadly, however, my knowledge of French pylon design is close to non-existent, but the French Wikipedia page (Pylône électrique) revealed some intriguingly named designs, including Le pylône Chat and most intriguingly of all, Le pylône électrique Mae West (see below). I get the cat vibe with the upwards protrusions at either end looking a bit like ears, but the mind boggles with Mae West. For those readers unfamiliar with mid-twentieth century movie stars, she was, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ".....a U.S. film actress and entertainer (1892–1980), noted for her large bust". According to Wikipedia, during World War II, Allied aircrews called their yellow inflatable, vest-like life preserver jackets "Mae Wests" partly from rhyming slang for "breasts" and "life vests" and partly because of the resemblance to her torso. I'm struggling a bit with a pylon's resemblance to her and neither am I confident about whether the one I snapped is a Chat or a Mae West, or for that matter whether the Mae West is a sub-genre of the Chat. That's the problem with Pylon of the Month; almost every time I write a post I end up with more questions than answers. Perhaps any fans of the website working in the French electricity sector will be able to help!

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Le pylône Chat, or is it the Le pylône électrique Mae West?

 


Pylon of the Month - February 2022

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It was a dry January on the pylon front; a mixture of busyness and never quite getting round to choosing a pylon to write about. For February I thought I would feature plenty of pylons to make up for this and so here are two columns of them marching across the Welsh countryside. To be more specific, they are marching across the Gwent levels and were sent in by someone who listened to the online talk I gave last year courtesy of The Living Levels Landscape Partnership. It’s an organisation which “aims to reconnect people and communities to the Gwent Levels landscape and provide a sustainable future for this historic and unique area”.

According to the Visit Wales website:

The Gwent Levels are an inter-tidal zone of saltmarshes, mudflats and sands, revealed to keen eyes at low tide along the northern coastline of the Severn Estuary. The low horizon, flat landscape, and big skies (often enhanced by dramatic cloudscapes, sunrises and sunsets) give the Levels a unique ethereal quality.

The area has a number of power stations including the fairly new 800 MW CCGT Severn power station built on the footprint of the former coal-fired Uskmouth A which closed in 1981 and was demolished in 2002. Another CCGT power station (even bigger at 1140 MW), Seabank, is on the opposite side of the Bristol Channel. Close to this, at 1,618 m is the longest overhead power line crossing in he UK, the Aust- Severn crossing which has featured twice before on the blog in May 2014 and April 2018.

As well as the picture at the top of this article, the email also contained a number of other pictures of which my favourite was the one below. That’s all for this month, but 2022 has lots of great pylons in the pipeline so come back for more soon.

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Pylon of the Month - December 2021

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December's Pylon of the Month was chosen on the spur of the moment during a walk with my Dad around Jumbles, Wayoh, and Entwistle reservoirs in the run-up to Christmas. It was a flying visit back to the area where I grew up and it would have been difficult to pick a better day for a December walk; cold, clear and amazingly windless. I've done the walk a number of times before, but all in the days BP (Before Pylons) when their presence wouldn't have caught my eye. A quick look at the Open Infrastructure Map tells that it is probably a pylon on the 132 kV line running north from Bolton's Union Road substation. 

The pylon is in Greater Manchester, but when I write to my Dad, I still use 'Lancashire' as part of the address even though it hasn't technically been part of the county since 1974 when boundary changes removed Liverpool and Manchester as well as their surrounding conurbations. This identification with Lancashire is noted on Wikipedia:

Many of these places still identify strongly with the county, particularly in areas of Greater Manchester (such as Oldham and Bury) where Lancashire is still used as part of the postal address.

Reading the Lancashire Wikipedia also led me down a bit of a rabbit hole. The original and much larger Lancashire was a County Palatine. This was news to me in that I had never heard of such a thing. It turns out that:

In England, Wales and Ireland a county palatine or palatinate was an area ruled by a hereditary nobleman enjoying special authority and autonomy from the rest of a kingdom or empire.

With Christmas preparations to finish, I couldn't afford to get sucked too deeply into the rabbit hole but I did find out that the Dukedom of Lancaster is an extinct peerage that lives on as the Duchy of Lancaster because the reigning monarch subsumed the Dukedom. From there I was led to the idea of Bona Vacantia on the Duchy of Lancaster website:

In English law, title to property must belong to, or ‘vest in’, an identifiable person or body. No property or goods are permitted to be ‘ownerless’. If legal ownership cannot be established by anyone else, it falls to the Crown to deal with the assets concerned. Such property or goods are known as ‘bona vacantia‘.

At that point, I decided that I had ventured too far from a pylon on a 132 kV line and stopped. Merry Christmas to pylon fans everywhere.


Pylon of the Month - November 2021

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November's pylon comes from Kent, or to be more specific Dungeness which according to Wikipedia is formed largely of a shingle beach in the form of cuspate foreland. I can probably safely assume that the intelligent readers of this blog are well acquainted with cuspate forelands, but just in case the definition isn't on the tip of the tongue, they are "geographical features found on coastlines and lakeshores that are created primarily by longshore drift". More to the point from a pylon perspective, Dungeness is also the site of two non-operational nuclear power station. The first (Dungeness A) is an old Magnox reactor which was commissioned in 1965 and went out of service on the last day of 2006. Dungeness B was an Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor (AGR) that was commissioned in 1983 and eventually shut down for good in 2021. AGR reactors never lived up to the hype that accompanied them in the early days:

In May 1965 Fred Lee, minister of power in Harold Wilson’s Labour government, announced that the next phase of Britain’s nuclear power programme would be based on the British-designed advanced gas-cooled reactor (AGR), in preference to the water-cooled reactors that were available from the US. Britain, Lee said, had “hit the jackpot”, with a design that was clearly superior on economic and technical grounds to its American rivals.

The quote above is an excerpt from a review in the Financial Times of 'The Fall and Rise of Nuclear Power in Britain' by Simon Taylor and it looks like an interesting if sobering read especially if like me you think that nuclear energy has a key role to play in decarbonising energy generation in the UK. 

Anyway, back to the pylons and the rather magnificently moody picture of them marching across the landscape. The picture was sent in by someone who confessed in the email by which they arrived, to having developed an irrational fear of pylons. A trip to Dungeness where you  "can touch them, giant gangly bloody things like huge Crane Flies. Buzzing and crackling away" was the therapy and I only hope it worked. The email was sent back at the beginning of 2021 and I'm not sure where the closure of the nuclear power stations now leaves these pylon lines. Perhaps I'll pop down to Kent to investigate when I get a chance. If you've already got information to pass on about the lines you can always get in touch with me on Twitter or Instagram.


Pylon of the Month - August 2021

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August's pylon is from North America, a part of the world that hasn't featured too often on the blog and when it has, Californian pylons from San Francisco and  Orange County were the main attraction. This time, we head further up the west coast to the Pacific Northwest and Washington State. The pylon enthusiast who sent the image also shared the exact location of where it was taken. https://goo.gl/maps/tJr2qJKFHCbHu and even noted that:

"If you use Google's satellite layer, you can actually see the pylons lying on their side! kinda crazy - I only just saw this now when looking it up"

It is odd that the fallen pylons have been left in situ. It looks like a single pylon that has broken into three parts, but was it damaged and replaced once the line was operational or is it a failed pylon that never made it into active service? Do let me know if you have the answer to this question.........
 
The transmission lines carried by the pylons come from the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project which provides about 25% of Seattle's electricity. In fact, hydropower is the biggest source of energy in Washington State which is at the forefront of efforts to decarbonise electricity generation as the chart below shows. 
 
Chart
 
A recent article from Forbes, Washington State’s Approaching Energy Crisis – Good Intentions Gone Wrong?, looks at this policy and claims:
 
The trouble stems from attempts to decarbonize our society. Getting rid of coal, oil and gas in generating electricity is the low-hanging fruit, but just getting rid of them without a realistic plan to replace them can do more harm than good.
 
It is a problem that the UK will also have to grapple with as we aim to hit our net zero target by 2050.
 
Anyhow, this picture was taken on the way to a walk by the Boulder River in the North Cascades. It looks fabulous and should I ever make it to Washington State I will surely do the walk after stopping to pay my respects to the fallen pylon. That's all for this month, although if your appetite for pylons in Washington State has been whetted, then you're in luck! Category:Electricity pylons in Washington (state)
 
 
 

Pylon of the Month - July 2021

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June was busy, so busy that it was a pylonless month, but on a walk in the Chilterns at the start of July this pylon caught my eye and it now has the privilege of being July's Pylon of the Month. It's just outside Great Missenden, a lovely town with many literary links. Roald Dahl lived here from 1954 until his death in 1990 and if I'd had more time, I would have visited the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre because I have so many happy memories of his wonderful stories, both as a child myself and also as books I read aloud to my own children. My favourite? A toss up between Danny Champion of the World and James and the Giant Peach. Anyway, David Cornwell (John Le Carré) lived there when his first book, Call for the Dead, was published and Robert Louis Stephenson spent a night at the Red Lion pub in 1874. Sadly the pub is now closed (it's now an estate agent) but you can see a few images of it courtesy of the Lost Pubs Project.

Enough local interest and back to the pylon. It caught my eye for two reasons. One was the mobile phone antennae attached to it, the other (as pointed out to me by the friend with whom I was walking) was the different insulator discs on the left and right of the pylon. For more about how mobile phone coverage works you Wikipedia is a treasure trove of information. I was intrigued by the different insulators on each side of the pylon so asked for information on Twitter as @pylonofthemonth.

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A quick check on the Open Infrastructure map confirmed that it is the 400 kV line mentioned by @IanBottomer and as a result of asking the question on Twitter I know more about reconductoring transmission lines. As do you, if you've made it this far. If that's left you hungry for more, here's a video showing live line reconductoring. That's all for now - see you in August!


Pylon of the Month - May 2021

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Over the last year, travel has been severely restricted for pretty much everyone so it seems fitting that May's Pylon of the Month comes from within walking distance of my house. The picture was taken by a colleague in West Oxford close to Binsey lane, a road that leads from Port Meadow to the Botley Road. Fans of His Dark Materials might be interested to know that Binsey lane features in chapter 11 of The Secret Commonwealth, the second novel in the Book of Dust trilogy. This part of Oxford is ideal for walking, with the added advantage of an excellent pub, The Perch, quite close to the pylon. Next time the weather is set fair on a Sunday, what better way to spend a few hours than a walk around Port Meadow followed by a pint and a pylon.

I like a lot of things about this picture, but even I've got to admit that it clashes somewhat with the idyllic water meadows and dreaming spires that might be conjured up when thinking of Oxford. It's that contrast, however that draws me in and this zone where city and countryside fray into one another is explored in an excellent book, Edgelands, by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts.

The wilderness is much closer than you think. Passed through, negotiated, unnamed, unacknowledged: the edgelands - those familiar yet ignored spaces which are neither city nor countryside - have become the great wild places on our doorsteps. In the same way the Romantic writers taught us to look at hills, lakes and rivers, poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts write about mobile masts and gravel pits, business parks and landfill sites, taking the reader on a journey to marvel at these richly mysterious, forgotten regions in our midst.

According this review of the book in the Guardian, the zone goes

"....by different names, few of them complimentary. Victor Hugo called it "bastard countryside". The landscape theorist Alan Berger called it "drosscape". The artist Philip Guston called it "crapola".

Given how close this pylon is to genuinely lovely countryside that's perhaps a bit harsh, but enough of the peripheral, let's discuss the pylon itself.  Long time readers and pylonophiles will have already spotted that it's a terminator pylon and in this case its at the end of the 132 kV line which starts further West in Witney and makes its way to Oxford via Farmoor reservoir. At this point, the voltage will be stepped down to a lower voltage to run either underground or on lower voltage overhead lines to a further network of substations. I'll go and investigate the next time I'm in the vicinity and I'll be sure to have a copy of Edgelands with me to read in the pub afterwards.


Pylon of the Month - February 2021

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February's pylon comes all the way from Melbourne, Australia and was taken during August last year in the suburb of Park Orchards, some 17 km from the city centre. It really is a stunning photograph that captures the night sky beautifully in a 5-second exposure shot at ISO 2000 with a 14mm f2.8 prime lens and Canon full frame camera. Details like that in the email to which the photograph was attached tell me that this was taken by an accomplished photographer and you can verify that for yourself by going to Instagram @pk____photography. The email continued:

"Since we are presently in Covid lockdown here in Melbourne and can't go more than 5km from home, my photographic opportunities are limited. We did have a fairly clear night recently with a new moon, so I thought I would try this shot to contrast human vs cosmic power"

Increase in astronomy has increased significantly during lockdown and for any UK pylon fans looking to learn more, I would highly recommend the Society for Popular Astronomy.

One of the great things about writing this blog is that the pylons I post lead me down interesting internet highways and byways and I always learn something new. In this case, a quick look at the fascinating 'Guide to Australia’s Energy Networks', led me to the discovery that Australia has some 500 kV overhead lines as part of the transmission network (compared to the UK where we only go up to 400 kV). A bit more digging led me to Moorabool Shire Council's September 2020 'Comparison of 500 kV Overhead Lines with 500 kV Underground Cables' which is part of the Western Victoria Renewable Integration Project whose aim is:

to address transmission network limitations.....the driver and benefits of this Project are to unlock up to 6GW of renewable energy sources, predominantly wind and solar generation, in North West of Victoria.

Reading on (it really is quite a fascinating report.....) led me to the discovery that Ultra High Voltage (UHV) AC power transmission is defined as 500 kV or over. The UK's 400 kV lines are merely EHV (Extra High Voltage) and I assumed this was because the distances over which we have to transmit electricity in the UK are considerably shorter than in larger countries.  The countries that are currently operating transmission network at UHV levels are Ukraine and Poland at 750 kV, South Korea at 765 kV, Brazil at 800 kV, China, Japan and Russia at 1,000 kV, with India is currently conducting experiments and planning for a transmission network at 1,200 kV. That theory about UHV corresponding to longer transmission distances holds up in some cases, but a quick Google tells me that that the UK is 144% larger than South Korea. More work is required here at some point because when I Googled "UHV South Korea" I was met by a wall of information and if I'd dived down that internet rabbit hole I might not have emerged for some time.

The Moorabool Sire Council report also includes this moving picture ( amongst others) of a fallen 500 kV pylon, felled in its prime by a storm in January 2020.

Capture

The conclusion of the report includes this assessment:

A feasible alternative to the proposed 500 kV double circuit overhead line would be 500 kV double circuit underground cable. Whilst this would be approximately ten times more expensive than an overhead line, the overall cost impact could be reduced by placing only the most sensitive sections underground. Although using underground cable for a portion of the route is not a simple solution it appears to be technically feasible.

Plenty to chew on there for the next few weeks so that's all for this month. See you in March!

 


Pylon of the Month - January 2021

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The first pylon of 2021 comes from Boars Hill just outside Oxford and was sent to me by a friend after a walk with his wife during the recent cold snap.  The hoar frost on the hedge and the fog1 made for a wonderfully atmospheric scene that can surely only have been enhanced by the pylon's presence. Boars Hill is a beautiful area for a walk if you are in the Oxford area and was where Matthew Arnold was inspired to write Thyrsis, the poem in which the famous lines that have come to define one misty-eyed2 perspective of Oxford.

And that sweet city with her dreaming spires

She needs not June for beauty's heightening

It is clear from the pylon design (PL16?) that this is a 132 kV line and a quick check of the Open Infrastructure Map confirmed this and also showed the lower voltage lines that you can see in the foreground of the picture. In the UK, three phase supply on wooden poles is usually either 11 kV or 33 kV but sadly, the map doesn't specify the voltage on such lowly lines. Interestingly, the 132 kV tower only seems to have a single circuit (3 lines - one for each phase) with two lines on one side of the tower and the third on the opposite side. I'm not sure why so I'll seek out the answer when I tweet this out as @pylonofthemonth

For more about Boars Hill, the Oxford Preservation Trust website is wonderfully informative.  The literary links to the area are legion, with four Poets Laureate having lived there; Robert Bridges, John Masefield, Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden. Elizabeth Daryush, the daughter of Robert Bridges, was also a noted poet and the garden of her house on Boars Hill is managed by the Oxford Preservation Trust. A visit there would be just the ticket for any pylon fans with a literary bent.

 

  1. I was going to call it mist until I looked up the difference and according to The Met Office, it turns out to be fog because you can see less than 1,000 metres.
  2. Foggy-eyed just doesn't work here.

 

 


Thumbnail_P1440367 A forest of pylons on the approach to Minster

October's Pylon of the Month is a readers' choice. Look at the amazing image and the "three parallel parades of pylons" as the fan who sent the picture in called them in a pleasingly alliterative phrase. Once you've looked for long enough to appreciate the beauty of the image, choose the one you want to be your own personal pylon of the month - I'm avoiding the obvious 132 kV choices in the foreground and going for the 400 kV wide boy on the far right of the picture with two lines on one cross arm.  Why it's constructed like that is something that I'd like to find out more about.

The pylons can be found in the fields between the villages of Plucks Gutter and Minster.  The hamlet of Plucks Gutter is, according to Wikipedia:

..named after a Dutch Drainage Engineer called Ploeg, whose grave is in All Saints Church, West Stourmouth. Ploeg, being the Dutch for a plough, the hamlet takes its origins from the Dutch Protestant tradition of draining marshland by creating a ploughed ditch

In this era of fake news, I'll mention that the Wikipedia page notes that a citation is needed to substantiate this story and as this note was made in September 2016 and no verification has been added, caution is needed if you are ever tempted to hold forth at a party about the origin of place names in Kent.

The fan who sent the picture spotted them whilst walking the Augustine Camino, a new pilgrimage route in Kent from Rochester to Ramsgate.  A quick look at the open infrastructure map for the area shows the parallel lines very clearly with the 400 kV Richborough connection in purple and two 132 kV lines (Canterbury North - Richborough and Richborough - Monkton). 

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It also shows Richborough power station which closed in 1996, although the national grid interconnector from the original power station is still in place, and is now the grid link for the offshore Thanet wind farm. The 1000 MW HVDC from Belgium also makes landfall on the site and is known as the Nemo link.  As a Physics teacher, High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) is pretty high up the list of things that I want to understand better and this article from the Powermag website looks like a good starting point.  The icing on the electrical cake is a couple of nearby solar farms - plenty to see if you fancy a pylon field trip to the area.  I certainly do - Kent is one of the areas of the UK that I know least about so I'll add it to my growing list of things to do once normality returns.