7 February 2017
I also congratulate Mike Rumbles on securing the debate and I commend the success of the campaign that the motion relates to
That said, it is good to have a wider debate on the issue, although it appears to have been solved for now.
There is agreement to underground the line around Bennachie but other bits of power line may require similar consideration, including power lines that are yet to be planned.
However, let us be clear that each site needs to be considered on its own merit, because undergrounding is not a panacea and has its own risks.
Although it might be aesthetically pleasing, it might not be environmentally sound; it may disturb natural heritage because we cannot underground a cable without serious disruption to the land. It is not just the cable: there is also the insulation, which requires a reasonably wide trench, so sensitive habitats in the area could be damaged or destroyed.
Some soil types should not be disturbed because of carbon release, so they might not be suitable for undergrounding.
Similarly, archaeological remains could easily be damaged.
Where those situations arise, it might be much better to put the cable above ground, from where it can be removed if different technologies provide a better solution.
Cost must also be considered.
We all pay for distribution networks in our electricity bills.
Those of us who are here tonight might be able to afford that, but a lot of our constituents live in fuel poverty and cannot afford the additional cost.
We must therefore consider each case on its merits and ensure that the solutions that are found are sustainable financially, aesthetically and environmentally.
Therefore, the word “preference” might not achieve a better balance than the word “consideration”, which is currently in the planning guidelines.
However, it is clear that undergrounding is not even being considered unless there is a public outcry, so the balance in the guidance is not right and it needs to be reviewed to ensure that the right vehicle for transmission is used in each situation.
If I may, Presiding Officer, I will push the boundaries of the debate a little and discuss the costs of transmission cabling.
With others, I have for some time been pushing for interconnectors from the northern isles and the Western Isles to the mainland.
Delays have led to increasing prices and I understand that underwater cables might also now need to be buried.
That might not just be a preference for underwater cable—it might become a requirement. Burying cable is sensible in areas where trawling and dredging could disturb it, but where there is no risk of disturbance, surely it is less damaging to anchor the cable to the sea bed.
Burying it will displace large areas of the sea bed and the natural habitat that it provides. We know very little about the conditions at depth, so we should take a precautionary approach to what we do there.
Therefore, I ask the Government to examine the proposals to see whether they are fit for purpose. Burying the cable would, of course, increase the cost of interconnectors, which is already prohibitively high.
Ministers were working with UK colleagues to look for a solution to that, but I have heard little about the outcome of any meetings or whether any progress has been made.
I hope that the minister can update Parliament on that some time in the near future.
I again congratulate Mike Rumbles on securing the debate and thank him for allowing us to debate the issue and its wider implications.