Pylons

Pylon of the Month - July 2022

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July's Pylon of the Month comes from County Durham and whilst there are many more striking images of pylons on the blog, there is always a place for the quotidian picture taken on a whim - in this case, whilst stopping for petrol on the A167 a few miles south of the city of Durham. The pylon is on the 400 kV line that when viewed on open infrastructure map appears to originate from Blyth substation (via Stella West).

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This is exciting news because Blyth is the substation next to the Cambois converter station which is where the North Sea Link from Norway makes landfall:

The North Sea Link is a 1,400 MW high-voltage direct current submarine power cable between Norway and the United Kingdom. At 720 km (450 mi) it is the longest subsea interconnector in the world. The cable became operational on 1 October 2021.

For more on interconnectors and the UK, this Financial Times article is worth reading. It notes that the cable has a capacity of 1.4 GW and that:

Interconnectors are a key part of the UK strategy for cutting emissions and boosting offshore wind because they allow the UK grid to share or import power depending on supply and demand.

Anyway, from the pylon to the personal. The reason for the visit to Durham was my daughter's graduation and it was lovely to celebrate her success although COVID had delayed the ceremony by a year. If you find yourself in the North East then as well as ticking off a few electricity infrastructure sites from your bucket list, Durham Cathedral is also spectacular and well worth some of your time. In fact, at the risk of causing offence to fans of the blog, if you have limited time I'd prioritise the cathedral. That's all for now. With the return of travel, next month's pylon will hopefully be a holiday pylon.

 

 

 


Pylon of the Month June 2022

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In November 2011, Pylon of the Month featured the winning design of a contest organised by the Royal Institute of British Architects to design a new pylon. Over ten years later and that design is being rolled out in Somerset and the National Grid website informs me that:

The new pylons form part of National Grid’s Hinkley Connection project, a £900m investment to connect low carbon electricity from Hinkley Point C Nuclear power station. They will run between Bridgwater and Portbury, other than through the Mendip Hills AONB where the new connection goes underground. The project also includes the removal of 249 electricity pylons between Bridgwater and Avonmouth.

These T-pylons have featured in newspapers, on TV/Radio and on Twitter over the last few months and I did consider using an image from the internet as May's Pylon of the Month. For such a defining moment in pylon history, however, that just seemed wrong. How could I, as a leading light of the pylon blogging world not be a witness to history myself before going into print? Fortunately, a half-term trip to Cornwall a few weeks ago allowed my wife to take this picture as we drove down the M5 with me trying not to swerve all over the road as I excitedly pointed out of the car window. A crash was avoided and a pleasant week in Cornwall followed. 

As can be seen, the pylons have a single pole and T-shaped cross arms which hold the wires in a diamond ‘earring’ shape. They are also only 35 metres high, a third shorter than traditional lattice pylons. They were designed by Bystrup:

the only company in the world, specialized in developing new power pylons for the global market. 

I wasn't sure what I'd make of them in the flesh but I have to say that I was impressed. I'm not entirely convinced that they are less visually intrusive than the traditional lattice pylons, but that may just be the shock of the new and in a few years time, perhaps I'll be driving down the motorway without even noticing them.

You can find out more about the design of the new pylons in this fascinating (8-minute) video and after that, you might well find yourself inventing an excuse to drive down the M5 to see them IRL. If you do, take a picture and tag @pylonofthemonth on Twitter or Instagram where there are always plenty of pylons to admire.


Pylon of the Month May 2022

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May's Pylon of the Month first caught my eye on Twitter courtesy of @simoncgallagher and you can see more of his fantastic photography on Instagram. The picture was taken at sunset and the beautiful sky in the background immediately made me think of 'the violet hour' as described by T S Eliot in section three of The Wasteland. The phrase crops up more than once, but is most obviously related to evening by:

At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
 
I'm not sure if it was T S Eliot who coined the phrase in the first instance, but in the unlikely event that any pylon fans also happen to be literary scholars specialising in TS Eliot and/or Modernism please do get in touch. Anyway, the violet hour has certainly got a bit of traction with a quick Google search revealing a contemporary art gallery, a Chicago cocktail bar, a play and a British alternative/folk rock band.
 
Anyway, back to the pylon which is an L6, a classic design introduced in the early 1960s and a common sight all across the UK. This one is on the Pelham 400 kV line just west of Bishop's Stortford and just north of the 715 MW CCGT Rye House power station. If you're looking for a reason to visit, it has the largest air-cooled condenser in Europe after which you can take your pick of the best pubs in Bishop's Stortford whilst you look back on a few hours well spent. That's all for now - come back next month for more or head to @pylonofthemonth on Twitter for more regular pylon action.

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. 
 
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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.