Gridline caught up with new National Grid CEO John Pettigrew to ask him six about the role of grantors like Welsh organic farmer Robert Newborough (above) in a rapidly evolving energy world
Q: How important is a positive relationship between National Grid and its grantors?
A: “One of my biggest worries is the grantor who has a gas pipe with 80 bar of pressure running through it, but is unaware of the potential consequences of working near it.
Our job is to protect our grantors and customers and build on the relationship we have with them to make sure they understand exactly what is on their land and the implications that go with it.
It’s a careful balance for us because we don’t want to scare people, but at the same time we want to make sure they have that understanding and that if they have a particular need to work on their land, we will do everything we can to make sure they can do it as safely as possible.
We offer a free service (where an engineer will visit to give advice) so frankly why wouldn’t they use it? If they want to build something over a pipeline or beneath a power line, we will help them find a way.
I suspect there is a misconception that if grantors tell us, we will block them. But we want landowners to let us know because we want them to get the work done properly and with their safety in mind. We recognise that they don’t have to tell us, but we are reliant on their goodwill so that we can maintain and develop a good working relationship.”
Q: What are your priorities when dealing with grantors?
A: “Our relationship with grantors is critical and we always have three things in mind when we’re dealing with them: one, that we don’t surprise them, two, that we treat them with respect and three, that we communicate openly and honestly with them.
Quite often it can be difficult because we contact grantors when something needs to be done to the network and that can impinge on what they do. Communication is the key – in our lifetime there will always be overhead lines and cables, so we are trying to build a long term relationship and we have to plan and understand the implications of what we do on grantors.
We can always improve and that’s why I expect my teams to have relationships with our grantors on a day-to-day basis where we need to share information.
Overhead line and cable work and maintenance has a big impact on our grantors so I am disappointed when we have to do some work and we don’t know the people or business affected, because they need to know who we are and what we stand for.”
Q: How important is it that grantors are kept in the loop concerning projects and community work? Are you happy with the links National Grid has in its communities with grantors and key figures, or could more be done to spotlight some of the excellent work being done?
A: “The amount of infrastructure that needs to be invested in over the next decade is immense – be it wind farm or solar or new generation – and at the moment there is not enough of a national narrative about this biggest phase of investment since the Victorian era.
I’m not sure there’s enough coming from the Government so we’re finding that when we go into communities and talk about the fact that we need to build overhead lines and so on, it’s the first time people are hearing about it.
More can be done nationally to articulate where we are. I think we do a really good job letting people know about major projects and spend a lot of time making sure people understand the plans.
It’s always emotive but there is probably more we can do in terms of giving people a longer term view of what’s on the horizon.”
Q: One of Gridline’s primary focuses is to ensure Land and Business Support and the Grantor Relations Team have real-time contact details for all landowners – how important is up-to-date information to National Grid and why?
A: “It’s critical for a number of reasons. We want relationships with grantors and if we don’t know who they are, that is more difficult.
We also want to make sure we’re making payments to the right people, but the most important thing is the safety aspect and I can’t stress this enough… if we don’t know who the grantor is or who they are allowing to work on their land, then that is operationally unsound.
We did a major piece of work a few years ago updating the database because we weren’t getting responses to letters and things have improved significantly. But the onus is always on us to ensure we make sure grantors know how to contact us and the Gridline website, magazine and our main corporate site all have signposts on how to do this.”
Q: Do you understand that grantors can become upset with National Grid when projects affect them? What more can be done to enhance the best possible grantor-Grid partnership?
A: “It’s natural for grantors to want to talk to us when we carry out major development near their land or in areas of aesthetic beauty, so if you compare what we are doing in terms of what we did in our communities today and five years ago it is hugely different.
We have a difficult role to play in trying to balance our obligations under law to build pipelines and overhead lines while also looking after and cementing the interests of our stakeholders and minimising the effect on the countryside against cost and engineering solutions. As you can see there are many factors that we have to balance.
Sometimes people think we have a financial incentive to do something or put a line through their land, but in reality we get funded for what we do and not the solution we propose. We have to be honest with our messages to continue stressing that point.
“We need grantors to talk to us… we don’t want them to stop doing something. We just want them to do it safely.”
A very small percentage of existing grantors are dissatisfied and where that’s the case we have to look at communication, which is a two-way thing. If they are building a barn on a 36-inch gas pipe with 80 bar then our overarching priority is to make sure they are aware how importantly we regard their safety.
That’s why we need grantors to talk to us… because we don’t want them to stop doing something. We just want them to do it safely.”
Q: Landowners are increasingly turning on to the idea of alternative power sources such as solar and wind. What are your views on this, and is it something to be encouraged going forward?
A: “The energy sector is at an inflection point. Over the last 50 years we’ve seen large energy generators centrally despatching in a linear relationship, but the world is changing and we are now in a world where people have wind or solar potential at home and will be taking energy off the Grid and putting into it, so the trend will become much more multi directional – that’s clear from the last couple of years alone.
Everything is accelerating at pace and we’re moving into a world where people will have a mix of locally generated power and only use National Grid in cold winters.
To meet climate change targets the country is going to need a mix of low carbon generation as well as solar and wind. The trend is clear.”
The Plant Protection line on 0800 688588 can initiate a free pipeline technician visit to peg out the course of the pipeline, assess depth and establish safe distances for all works, which the owner is obliged to tell National Grid about
The Grantor helpline on 0800 389 5113 (choose option 1) or email the team at email@example.com