PLANS for an electricity transmission network in northeast Scotland to facilitate the UK’s move to environment-friendly energy supply have been condemned as a threat to crops, food production and landscape in a key farming area.

A proposed 400kV pylon line between Fiddes, south of Stonehaven, and Tealing near Dundee will run through some of Scotland’s best agricultural land. The 188ft towers will impede the efficient use of large machinery typically employed in arable areas, and the high-voltage system could inhibit the irrigation that is vital for high value seed potato production, according to specialist property advisers.

The plan to install pylons on prime agricultural land through the Howe of the Mearns was unveiled in a series of roadshows in early May by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, the energy transmission and distribution company. The 66-mile route, taking in landscapes immortalised by the writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon in novels such as Sunset Song, was apparently selected to avoid more challenging terrain, combined with economic factors.

“It is not clear why SSEN have taken this route rather than alternatives,” said Tom Stewart, a partner at the property consultancy Galbraith.

“There is normally a presumption against development on prime agricultural land.

“While this may be the cheapest route for SSEN to construct it threatens agricultural output in the area. A scheme of this nature introduces a significant threat to future cropping of potatoes and oilseed rape – key crops in this area. Construction traffic introduces a significant biosecurity threat of spreading diseases such as eelworm and potato cyst nematode (PCN) the length of the route. PCN already costs Scottish agriculture over £25m a year and threatens food security in the developed and developing world.

“Not only will the tall towers have a significant impact in the flat landscape of the area; cropping fields with pylons is also much more difficult and will push up production costs. This does not seem to have been taken into account in route selection.”

Some homeowners in affected areas are angry at the prospect of pylons affecting the value of their properties, for which many will receive no compensation.

The East Coast 400kV Phase 2 scheme is part of a GB-wide programme of reinforcements that are required to deliver Government 2030 targets. SSEN obtained planning consent to reinforce the existing 275kV overhead line connecting the substations at Blackhillock, Keith, Kintore and Peterhead, to enable operation at an increased voltage of 400kV, by replacing the insulators and fittings on the existing towers, as well as reconfiguring a short section of the overhead line to divert it out of Keith substation.

“Scotland’s drive for renewable energy sources has changed the pattern of power generation,” explained Mike Reid, head of Energy at Galbraith. “To enable the transfer of power from diverse sources to users, it’s estimated that five times the infrastructure will be needed in the next seven years than was built in the past 30.

“This proposal is at an early stage and responses to the SSEN consultation need to be lodged by 9 June 2023. Whereas there is a requirement for upgraded infrastructure across Scotland, these schemes need to take into account of the wider, long-term impact on local landscapes, communities, businesses and property ownership.

“Given the scale and impact of the proposals particularly with regard to agricultural productivity, it is likely that a full Environmental Impact Assessment will be required. SSEN aims to submit its plans for consent in late 2024 and start construction in 2026.”