The controversial pylons plans for Dumfries and Galloway may be put out to tender – despite Scottish Power Energy Networks starting a consultation on the project.
The revelation came in a letter from Kersti Berge, Head of the energy regulator Ofgem in Scotland to MSP Joan McAlpine, who has been supporting constituents affected by the plans.
Ms McAlpine said:
“Many of my constituents will be surprised at this revelation from Ofgem given the consultation by SPEN.
“Affected residents will want to know if tendering could drive down the cost of the upgrade, therefore resulting in an even worse development than the proposal they are currently opposed to.
“On the other hand, if Ofgem can invite tenders for lines to be undergrounded and less obtrusive it could be a positive development.”
In her letter, Ms Berge says certain transmission investments could be subject to competitive tendering - a move confirmed by Ofgem at UK level on Monday.
Ms Berge wrote:
“We will consult on whether to tender the proposed Dumfries and Galloway strategic reinforcement project after we consider the needs case to be submitted by Scottish Power Energy Networks.”
She goes on to explain that in any tendering for onshore transmission, Ofgem would expect bidders to present “innovative and cost effective proposals.” The regulator would then “evaluate the cost of the bids alongside other factors.”
Ms McAlpine has written back to Ms Berge demanding that tenders for the Dumfries and Galloway project should take those affected by the development into consideration. This could mean undergrounding.
Ms McAlpine said she understood the need for an upgrade to the network as local residents and businesses require reliable grid connections and the current transmission line is both at capacity and between 50 and 80 years old.
But the MSP believes there are important questions to be asked about how and where any replacement network should be routed and what to do about visual impact.
Ms McAlpine said:
“Ultimately it is Ofgem who will decide whether the work is needed and how much can be spent on the upgrade. That should not just be about driving down costs.
“Ofgem answers to the UK Government – including the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell MP.
“Will Mr Mundell represent the views of his constituents in Dumfriesshire and put pressure on Ofgem to provide funds to mitigate the visual impacts of the upgrade?"