Examination of Witnesses (Questions 860
MONDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2008
Q860 Mr Drew:
I was going to say, by pure chance I drove past Walham a week
last Friday when we had our second dose of water, and there was
an awful lot of water lapping up against the sides of the HESCO
Mr Winser: I do not think that
Q861 Mr Drew:
There was quite a lot of water.
Mr Winser: Not up at the HESCO
barrier. It was still a meter short of the site, and actually
the HESCO barrier is on the site.
Q862 Mr Drew:
I am just saying there was a lot of water that day.
Mr Winser: There was not water
up against the barrier, no.
Q863 Mr Drew:
Unfortunately I do see water everywhere nowadays. I meet a lot
of constituents at weekends who are paranoid about it.
Mr Murray: I think the fact that
we had the close shave back in July at Walham, the fact that we
did not rely on just having a temporary barrier there but did
invest in the HESCO barrier and given the events of a week last
Friday, when indeed the water levels around the site were rising
quite rapidly, we did take the precaution of making sure that
the whole site was then sealed off and secure in the event that
the flood waters did rise again. On this occasion they did not.
Had they risen again, this time the HESCO barrier is there, is
deployed and, as Nick has mentioned, we have also got now this
portable barrier, identical to the one the EA deployed on our
behalf at Walham the first time round, so that if we get flooding
elsewhere we can deploy that very rapidly, in advance of the conclusions
of the ENA study which is going to the Energy Minister at the
end of February, and, of course, the final conclusions from Sir
As far as back-up is concerned in terms of these potentially vulnerable
sites, have you now addressed all 23 of the sites you identified
and, in a more general question, where you believe there may be
vulnerability at a site, have all of them got some alternative
way, if they were inundated, of by-passing them to get consumers
Mr Winser: That is what the ENA
work is all about, to work as an industry with the Environment
Agency to understand what is the most economic way of providing
a greater degree of resilience against both our sites and the
sites of the distribution companies. Clearly, in this case, although
we did not lose any supply from Walham, it is a good example of
this feature that the distribution side also has sites which are
fed from Walham. There is no point in protecting one without protecting
them all, in a way.
Mr Raymant: Yes. Coming back on
the previous question in terms of protection of the sites, for
a distribution network flood risk is just one of the weather risks
we have to consider, and typically most of the interruptions we
see are not down to flooding, they tend to be down to wind or
lightning. So, when we are looking at our whole approach to risk
assessment where we focus our attention, it has tended not to
be flooding. The issue that has come to light now is that with
what we would call low probability but high impact incidents like
this we are having to factor those into our risk assessments in
a completely different way by basically giving them a higher weighting.
So that is how we are approaching this and that is the way we
are looking at the 81 sites at risk we have got. Picking up on
Nick's point about the distribution network, an analogy we can
apply to that is more like the local road network compared to,
say, the motorway network of the grid company. What that enables
us to do is to provide a greater degree of interconnection so,
if there is an incident on the network, we have got ways of feeding
supplies alternatively, and actually we deployed that very successfully
at Gloucester, which is why we were able to restore two-thirds
of the customers within a couple of hours. But there does come
a point where, if there is a major incident on the National Grid
network (which, fortunately, we did not have), but if there had
been, it would have been impossible for us to provide alternative
supplies to meet that shortfall.
We spend a lot of time trying to make our special services like
electricity, gas, sewage resilient to a whole range of risks,
whether they be natural or man-made. Are we getting to be in a
situation where these facilities are more or less resilient to
threat? How do you actually deal with that? We keep reading about
all these contingency plans, even for things like terrorist activity;
now we have potentially extreme weather events. How reassured
can the public be that their infrastructure is going to be properly
Mr Murray: I think they can be
very well assured, Chairman. The resilience on the electricity
network is already 99.999% in terms of its delivery, and the reason
that we worked with the Hadley Centre EDF and E.ON a couple of
years ago to kick off a study of the long-term impact of climate
change and the impact on the energy sector was because we recognised
that we were not looking at a static position, things are changing.
We do have regular contingency exercises, we have got one actually
with London this month, and going forward, of course, we have
further hardened our resilience, not only just at Walham by the
installation of the HESCO barrier but by the investment in the
portable barrier for elsewhere and, indeed, the on-going investment
we are making in our networks in terms of the replacement and
refurbishing of the National Grid over the next ten, 15 years.
Mr Winser: Alan made an excellent
point, which is that there are many requirements for us to invest
in our networks and we are investing at a higher rate than we
have ever invested, and that is a lot to do with connecting up
new sources of low carbon generation. Obviously we are also entering
into a major phase of asset replacement anyway, a lot of the assets
are getting towards the end of their lives, so for our part we
are investing in our networks currently at a rate, over the next
five years in this network, of about three and a half four billion
pounds, so this is really accelerating, and, as we do so, we are
trying to pick up all of the risks that you have highlighted there,
but inevitably there is a degree of balancing against them. We
are giving great emphasis to the risks of flooding because of
the work coming out of the Hadley Centre.
Q866 Dr Strang:
On that point, you are making the point that there is a whole
range of hazards and threats that you have got to try to protect
our infrastructure from. On the terrorist threat, I think we all
agree that, obviously, the threat now is of a different order
from the one posed by the IRA. So, if you look in the last ten
years at this issue, has that become quite prominent? Obviously,
it is not something you necessarily discuss with the media, but
has that become much more prominent in your planning and thinking?
When it comes to investing in new facilities, is this a major
factor in terms of recruitment, in terms of staff and labour?
Is this really a major factor in increasing your costs legitimately?
Mr Raymant: Do you mean specifically
Q867 Dr Strang:
No, I mean in terms of all your investments.
Mr Raymant: Like Nick said, I
think the whole industry is investing significantly much larger
amounts of money in the network, and that is recognised in the
fact that the network is very old. Even at current investment
levels, you are talking in excess of 50, 60 years implied life
for the assets, so it will take a long time to turn round the
asset-base that we have got into something different and, therefore,
we have to look at the specific risks of individual investments
very carefully to decide exactly where we are going to allocate
our funds. Going forward, we would be expecting to allocate further
resources to flood resilience. What we are trying to do at the
moment is quantify exactly which sites are at risk and then what
investment we need to make to protect those sites, and that will
be informed by the work that the ENA are doing that Chris referred
to earlier as well as work that the EA are doing in terms of improving
their predictive methods for assessing flood risk. All of those
things have to be considered and we have to come up with a balance
in terms of our investments to make sure we are managing all of
the risks effectively.
Q868 Dr Strang:
Obviously you cannot do all of this by yourself, but things like
reservoirs and dams and all these things are major considerations
that you are concerned about?
Mr Raymant: Yes.
Mr Winser: From our perspective,
thankfully, transmission reliability is, by international standards,
right up there at the top of the pile. As Chris was saying, it
is six-ninths reliable. We have to be balancing the variety of
risks to it, and flooding is the latest thing that we really do
need to focus on and we are doing so through the ENA study. That
will have to be judged carefully for its effectiveness at providing
resilience against the variety of other risks that the Chairman
Q869 Paddy Tipping:
We were given a promise that you were going to give us a snapshot
of what happened in Sheffield, because there were problems there
both with substations for electricity and gas as well. Perhaps
you would just tell us what happened? You had not expected it
to happen in Sheffield.
Mr Murray: No, as I think the
Committee will know, we had unprecedented weather conditions this
summer and in Sheffield we actually did lose some supplies. The
water levels at our Neepsend substation rose extremely rapidly
on 25 June. At 12.30 we found that the water was starting to come
into the substation, by 1.45 we had evacuated the substation and
by 5.30 it was under four feet of water. Around two hours earlier,
at 3.30, we actually lost supplies to the local distribution network
outlet, CE Electric. Because we knew this was happening, the water
levels were rising, working with the local DNO, CE Electric, we
transferred as much load as we possibly could away from that site
so that, as Alan mentioned, they could reconfigure their network.
Unfortunately, when the site tripped, we lost 35,000 customers.
Very quickly CEE were able to reconfigure further to bring that
number down to 12,000 customers, they were then able to do some
rota disconnection while we did repair works and they did support
works, and everybody was back on within 36 hours, and by the Friday
evening, about 11.30, we were able to get back into the site and
actually restore the supplies from that site. Since that time,
of course, we have spent several million pounds repairing the
site and bringing it back up to normal operations as well as improving
the defences there. That was the gas side of things. Very close
to that we had the Thorpe Marsh site, which again was subject
to water inundation, but we did not lose any supplies from there,
we were able to get it switched out and to do some protective
workswe had great support from the Army, the Fire Brigadeand
then switched it back in without any loss of supply; and on the
gas side we had some low pressure areas where domestic customers,
because of water ingress, had to have their supplies off and we
got those back on quite quickly. Frankly, the biggest issue that
we might have had, which, thankfully did not come to fruition
on the gas side, was the risk of the failure of the Ulley Dam
at Rotherham, because we had a gas installation at the foot of
that site, but, once we became aware of that risk, we isolated
it and were feeding the local area by other routes. Thankfully
the Ulley Dam did not fail and so that site was not a risk ultimately.
Q870 Paddy Tipping:
But within Sheffield none of these sites were on your radar screen,
as it were. Is that right? How do you view them into the future?
Mr Murray: One of the things that
we think about in terms of Neepsend, of course, was that this
was due really to two things: first of all the extreme rainfall
and water levels coming up anyway and then actually the impact
of that rainfall washing away a bridge which then diverted lots
more water into the site. I think we have to think of second consequences
and not just think about what happens if the rain level comes
up. We have to think about the infrastructure around it, and that
is what a lot of the work has been doing since that time with
both our own consultants and the ENA, and that is why we have
chosen to deploy the temporary barrier both north and south so
that in the intervening period, while we await the results of
the ENA recommendations, we can have the capability to protect
our sites. One of the recommendations from Sir Michael Pitt's
Review is that we engage with our regulator and look at what further
investments should be made, but I think one has to look at this
holistically in terms of investments that the EA might want to
make in providing flood defences, the investments that we might
want to make and the investments that the DNO might want to make:
because we should not have people paying twice through maybe tax
and their energy bill for investments which, if they were looked
at holistically, could have been done once.
Q871 Paddy Tipping:
Are those discussions taking place?
Mr Murray: They are indeed.
Q872 Mr Drew:
Could we go back to Gloucestershirereally these are questions
for Mr Raymantand what happened in Castle Meads. In the
same way as Mr Murray outlined the Sheffield experience, would
you give us a quick elucidation of what happened in the Castle
Mr Raymant: Sure. The main events,
as it were, started on the Sunday evening when the water levels
started to rise at that site. We had assistance from the Fire
Brigade but it was becoming quite clear that it was going to be
very difficult to hold back the flood waters and ensure that the
site was fully protected. Going back two days, in Worcestershire
we had had an incident at the substation called Timberdine, which
had flooded not by river flooding but by rain water run-off, and
in the process that substation actually tripped because it flooded.
The consequence of that was it caused significant damage to the
substation and it took us four days to repair it. Going back to
Gloucestershire, on that Sunday, early on the Monday morning,
we were faced with a similar situation. We actually took what
we considered to be a difficult but quite brave and courageous
decision to switch the substation out, and the reason we wanted
to do that was because we were confident that if we could pump
the water out, as soon as we had pumped the water out we would
be able to switch the circuits back in and get the customers back
on. The consequence of that was that at 5.00 o'clock in the morning
we switched the substation out. We lost supplies to 47,000 customers.
We progressively, over the next two to three hours, brought about
two-thirds of those customers back on by redirecting supplies
and that left us with about 13,000 customers that we had no other
means of supplying. We needed to get Castle Meads back on. Whilst
we were doing that, with the assistance of the Army and the Fire
Service, we put protection around Castle Meads substation and
pumped the water out to where we were comfortable we could actually
switch the circuit back in and maintain safe supplies, and we
did that at just after midnight on the Tuesday morning and all
supplies were then restored. The maximum impact was that we had
about 11-13,000 customers off for around about 20 hours. In the
circumstances we think we could not have done any better than
Q873 Mr Drew:
Why did you not, before the Gloucester County Council Inquiry,
give them the same information you have given to us?
Mr Raymant: Part of that, to be
honest, was a misunderstanding. We had been supporting the debriefing
of the Gold Command meetings. There were a number of those meetings
and we took the decision that we had actually provided all of
the briefing material we needed to provide and, therefore, did
not see the immediate need to support that particular investigation
as well. So, that was the reason why we did not go. I think, in
hindsight, we would have preferred to have gone, but, as I say,
it was a judgment at the time, having many requests to attend
a series of debriefing sessions, that we focused on the Gold Command
Q874 Mr Drew:
You put written evidence in but you did not appear in person?
Mr Raymant: Yes. As I say, I think
our focus at the time was on the Gold Command debriefs.
Q875 Mr Drew:
What have you done about those customers who lost power? Have
you compensated them in any way or have you explained what has
happened so they know directly what the repercussions were of
Mr Raymant: Two things. One was
that in the immediate aftermath of the incident we were very proactive
in terms of checking out properties round the Gloucestershire
area that had been affected by flooding so that we could at least
give the customer some comfort about the safety of their supplies
once they returned into their properties. That is what we felt
was most important, because we are talking about vast numbers
of customers at that point. So that was our immediate focus, as
well as making sure that they had the general safety information
for when they returned to their properties. In terms of those
immediately disrupted, as part of the industry regulation there
is an established compensation mechanism which customers are entitled
to call on.
Q876 Mr Drew:
You have done that, or you have allowed them to do it?
Mr Raymant: Yes. It is for the
customers to actually claim, but, yes, to the extent that they
have we will have met those obligations in full.
Q877 Mr Drew:
In terms of the costs of the emergency services, obviously the
Army and the other emergency services, have you recompensed them
in any way?
Mr Raymant: In short, no. We certainly
have not been asked to, and it certainly was not our expectation
that we would have been either. I think at the time the main driver,
the main requirement, was for us to effectively move as quickly
as possible to business as usual and, therefore, not be reliant
on the emergency services, and that was the position and the strategy
Q878 Mr Drew:
But they played a key part in some of the logistics to allow you
to get to the stage where you were able to put the substation
back on again.
Mr Raymant: Yes, they were absolutely
critical to the process on that Monday of sandbagging the site
and pumping the site out. That is absolutely right. That was the
first part of the strategy. The second part of the strategy was
making sure that we could stand on our own two feet once we got
the site back on and, thereafter, that is what we did. We had
sufficient pump capacity of our own to manage the site.
Q879 Mr Drew:
Moving on to the Pitt Review, the interim report, it would be
very interesting to know from both organisations: what have you
done so far? There is obviously a lot of mention of the role of
Category 2 responders. Michael Pitt is not uncritical of the role
that you played both during the emergency and post emergency.
Perhaps starting with the National Grid, what have you actually
done so far? Of those immediate recommendations that Michael Pitt
highlights, how many of those have you got responsibility for
and what have you done in response to that?
Mr Winser: His immediate recommendations
were largely not to us, although PPS25, which zones the sites
and has recommendations for how to deal with the different types
of resilience required to flood, we have implemented in full.
We have also undertaken the work with the ENA and the rest of
the industry to understand what is the best overall approach to
increasing resilience going forward.
Mr Murray: I think the emergency
or urgent recommendations that Sir Michael Pitt has put forward,
as Nick says, largely do not apply to National Grid. However,
there are a number of the other 72 recommendations. Many of them
are related to the closeness of working with the local and regional
fora, and I am pleased that we do work very closely with them.
We have also worked very closely with Sir Michael on his work
for the interim review. I have met with him personally, and I
am meeting with him again within the next two weeks, in support
of the work towards his final conclusion. We have no difficulty
whatsoever with the recommendations that he has put forward. As
I mentioned, one of the other recommendations that he has made
is that we work with the regulatory authorities to consider what
further investments should be taken to physically harden any other
sites that might be at risk going forward.