UK minister for building pylons loses role after campaigning against them

The UK minister responsible for the building of new pylons has been quietly reshuffled after it emerged he had campaigned against the structures in his own constituency.

The energy minister Andrew Bowie had been in charge of energy networks, including building pylons, since he took up his post in February 2023.

In July he wrote on the blog he runs for constituents in West Aberdeen that concerns among locals about new pylons were “a priority of mine”. He met local anti-pylon campaigners on multiple occasions.

In December the brief was passed to the climate minister Graham Stuart. No announcement was made but a change has been made on the government website.

A freedom of information request by Politico found that Bowie raised potential conflicts of interest under the ministerial code, recording “a large number of energy companies and organisations working in or on behalf of the energy sector within the minister’s constituency and surrounding constituencies”.

There has been a growing campaign by some Conservative MPs against expanding the National Grid, which needs to happen if enough electricity is to be supplied to UK homes and businesses while allowing for growth and decarbonisation. The MPs say pylons are unsightly.

The Offshore Electricity Grid Task Force is made up of 14 MPs who are campaigning against pylons. Its members include the former secretaries of state Priti Patel, Kemi Badenoch and Thérèse Coffey.

Patel brought their case to parliament in November, asking why the pylons could not be built in the sea. She demanded that ministers opt to “build an offshore grid” and “pull the plug on these awful pylons”.

The energy secretary, Claire Coutinho, has said expanding the grid could be a politically thorny topic, commenting last year: “Of course, it’s a difficult conversation when you tell people that things are going to be built near them.”

Experts have said more pylons would bring down energy bills, allow for renewable energy sources to be connected to homes and mean businesses can set up in more areas.

Simon Cran-McGreehin, the head of analysis at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said an offshore grid without onshore pylons made no sense.

He said: “The proposed grid investments already include coordinated undersea cables to connect up the UK’s vast offshore wind potential, but at some point those lines have to come onshore to reach customers, otherwise it’s like a ring road without any routes into town.”

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero declined to comment on the basis it does not comment on ministerial reappointments.


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