Page last updated at 15:21 GMT, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Beauly to Denny power line 'could go underground'

Jim Mather was questioned by MSPs: From Democracy Live

Parts of the controversial new Beauly to Denny power line could still be built underground, the Scottish energy minister has told MSPs.

Jim Mather said ministers could not force developer Scottish and Southern Energy to go down that route but the option to do so had been left open.

The government approved plans for a 137-mile network of 600 pylons, running from the Highlands to central Scotland.

The project, an upgrade of the existing line, attracted 18,000 objections.

But the government said it was vital for unlocking Scotland's potential as a renewable energy powerhouse.

Mr Mather's comments came as he was questioned by the Scottish Parliament's energy committee, amid concern the government had failed to answer key questions on how the project would go ahead.

brian taylor
Brian Taylor
Political editor

The members of the economy, energy and tourism committee of the Scottish Parliament did their job today. Big name, minute focus.

They contrived to give Energy Minister Jim Mather a tough time over his granting of consent to the Beauly-Denny replacement power line.

Not, you understand, that they were opposed to the line - it attracts widespread political support on the basis that its importance to the economy outweighs environmental concerns.

The minister told MSPs the government had rejected calls from the public inquiry into the project to withhold approval of parts of the line, in favour of green-lighting the whole development.

"We chose not to do that because we felt the national interest required a whole-line consent," said Mr Mather.

He added: "We're still leaving them the option that could see us obtain some undergrounding."

Objectors to the pylons had called for an underground or sub-sea cable.

Mr Mather again insisted the developer would have to comply to strict planning conditions when taking the project forward.

He added: "We cannot require them to underground. What we can require them to do is to mitigate. That them leaves them the option to mitigate by undergrounding."

Scottish Labour's energy spokesman Lewis Macdonald said Mr Mather should have followed the Reporter's recommendation to withhold consent for two sections of the new grid line.

He said that this was the only way the minister could force developers to bring forward different proposals for parts of the route, such as undergrounding.

Mr Macdonald said: "Ministers have approved Beauly-Denny, yet the SNP still pretend otherwise. Jim Mather kept quiet last week about his decision to over-rule the inquiry reporter in order the approve the developers' plans in full."

The 137-mile Beauly to Denny line would see the network of pylons, some more than 200ft in height, upgrading and replacing the existing power line, which runs to more than 800 pylons.

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