They've got the power

PUBLISHED: 01:16 18 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:38 20 February 2013

They've got the power

They've got the power

So many things go into making a village great. But one thing we all need is electricity. UK Power Networks, sponsor of Suffolk Village of the Year, is the company making sure the lights stay on. We take a look at what goes on behind the scenes

So many things go into making a village great. But one thing we all need, from the largest town to the smallest hamlet is electricity.

Laid end to end, the underground cables and overhead electricity power lines which distribute electricity to people in the East of England, would circle the earth eight times.

UK Power Networks, which has a major base in Ipswich, is responsible for this vast network of cables and substations delivering power to the eight million customers across the East, London and the South East.

In Suffolks villages, much of the power is distributed through overhead power lines which are the most effective way to transport power across rural areas, rather than the underground cables which are more common in towns.

As part of the 360million the company is investing in maintaining and improving the network this year, many of those overhead lines serving Suffolk villages are being refurbished to ensure that electricity supplies are as reliable as possible. As well as such improvements, general maintenance of electrical equipment is also a major part of the day-to-day work of UK Power Networks staff.

In our villages, a vital piece of maintenance work is tree trimming. If tree branches are not regularly trimmed they can touch and damage the overhead power lines, interrupting electricity supplies to customers.

Each year in Suffolk more than 500,000 is spent on trimming back trees from the 1,000km of high voltage lines that cross the countryside. And a further 2.5million is spent on a rolling three and four year cycle, trimming back branches from the 2,000km of lower voltage lines that take power to homes and businesses.

UK Power Networks tree manager, Martin Peters said: "It is really important that we are able to carry out this work all year round, to maintain as reliable a supply as possible to our customers.

"While undertaking this work we need to take into account many considerations including environmental issues such as nesting birds, bats and endangered species as well as landowner requirements including issues with crops and the shooting season.

"Overhead lines can be affected by all sorts of factors which are out of our control such as the weather, but keeping them clear of tree branches is something that we can deal with and have a duty to take very seriously."

To fit in all the tree-trimming work that is needed, the programme must take place all year round, and for the engineers to carry out the work safely the power to customers must be turned off for several hours. Customers are notified in advance to enable them to make other arrangements if they need to.

Mr Peters added: "We do this planned work as a precaution, because we dont want our customers to be inconvenienced by unscheduled power interruptions which could have the potential to last for some time.

"We undertake as much of the work as possible with the electricity supply left on, and only turn the power off where required to enable the work to be carried out safely."

There is another side to the work which is vital in our countys villages and rural areas. Safety, especially that of UK Power Networks staff and its customers is a top priority for the company.

Much of the equipment used to deliver power to homes and businesses, such as substations, has to be based in the community and people are warned to stay well clear. UK Power Networks has a dedicated safety team who visit all sorts of groups from farmers, anglers and tree workers to parish councils and churches to make them aware of the potential dangers of working too close to electrical equipment.

One of the companys public safety advisors, John Haddon said: "We are only too willing to talk to any group or business which needs our advice.

"We often visit farms or work with people carrying out work such as thatching or tree surgery to offer guidance on how to work safely near our equipment. You would be surprised how many farmers and other workers do not notice the overhead power lines which cross their land when they are ploughing, hedge trimming or harvesting. "People tend to just take them for granted, which could be fatal if you are driving a high vehicle or operating machinery close to the lines.

"We also work with the Health and Safety Executive on special awareness days, as well as attending agricultural and county shows throughout the year."

People taking part in leisure activities in the countryside also need to be aware of the potential dangers of overhead power lines because electricity can jump gaps. Look Out, Look Up is always the message that the companys safety advisors give to anyone who is working or playing in the countryside, particularly taking part in activities such as fishing, hot air ballooning or kite-flying.

Even putting up a marquee could bring people into contact with the electricity supply as driving stakes into the ground can hit underground power cables.

If you spot a safety issue which concerns you, such as children playing too close to equipment like power lines or trying to climb into a substation, please call UK Power Networks immediately on the number below.

If you are thinking of going camping, taking part in water sports or angling or even taking a balloon ride, email for a guide of how to stay safe around the electricity network.

In some locations overhead power lines have been re-routed or even placed underground where safety has become a concern. UK Power Networks also runs a scheme to place overhead lines underground, in areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks. In July last year UK Power Networks carried out a 342,000 project to remove a mile and a half of overhead power lines that ran from Chillesford to Butley.

The company worked closely with the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Unit to place the cables underground as they ran through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and affected views from the Suffolk Coast path and Suffolk Cycle Route.

The cable undergrounding scheme was funded by a special allowance granted by the electricity industry regulator Ofgem to enable the removal of power lines in AONBs and national parks.

If you have a power cut call UK Power Networks free power cut helpline on 0800 7838838 or text power cut followed by your postcode to 80871 to register for text updates about progress to restore supplies.

UK Power Networks, sponsor of Suffolk Village of the Year, is the company making sure the lights stay on. We take a look at the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep the power flowing

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