Grid project

Of pylons and energy

Author: Jan Schenk

The old extra-high-voltage grid in Goms is being dismantled; a move that will significantly improve the natural scenery on the valley floor. An interview with Gerhard Kiechler, the Mayor of Goms (VS) about the power line and energy-rich Goms.


The Valais is an energy canton. It currently produces around a third of Switzerland’s hydropower energy. In the coming year, the Nant de Drance power plant will see another pumped storage facility connected to the grid. To allow this energy to be transported to the populated centres in the Swiss Central Plateau, Swissgrid needs to expand the transmission grid from the Vallée du Trient to Obergoms to a voltage of 380 kilovolts. These activities also extend to Goms, as is evidenced by the construction of the new extra-high-voltage line between Ernen and Ulrichen davon.

Gerhard Kiechler stands in front of the beautiful town hall and looks up at the new line. «We are all part of the reason why these lines are necessary. Power transmission is the logical consequence – we need to transport the electricity from the power plant to the light bulb,» says Gerhard Kiechler. For the Mayor of Goms (VS), energy is an ever-present topic. The municipality has several power plants that feed energy into the distribution grid.

But the most important thing is that the old lines are being removed.

Gerhard Kiechler

A line disappears from the villages

Take a look at the southern slope of the Grimsel Pass down to Goms and you will see something that definitely was not there before. The new extra-high-voltage line is a new landmark along the southern slope. The 380-kilovolt line stretches across 57 pylons, from Ernen to Ulrichen. But the trip through the picturesque villages in Goms reveals even more. Something that has been a fixed part of the scenery in the villages for decades has disappeared: the old line. Electricity has been flowing through the new extra-high-voltage line on the section between Ernen and Ulrichen since October 2019. This year, the focus is on dismantling the old line. The benefits of the removal are particularly apparent in places where the line crossed overhead, such as on hiking paths or cross-country ski trails. But the landscape on the valley floor will also be enhanced. And with the demolition of the old line, the camping site in Reckingen will no longer be divided.

What is it like without a line in the village?
Gerhard Kiechler: You get used to the new scene quite quickly and it is already hard to imagine what it was like when the line was still here.

The line is gradually disappearing from the villages. Have you received feedback from the locals?
The line has long since ceased to be an issue in local circles. It barely rates a mention, even the dismantling has not caused much of a stir. In general, good news tends to be quieter than bad news.

Why is that? After all, isn’t the new line visible for miles around.
I always said, wait five years and the scars in nature will have disappeared. This year the forest has already grown slightly again. But the most important thing is that the old lines are being removed. The people who lived under the line are delighted that the line is gone.

One episode illustrates this clearly. In Reckingen, citizens launched a petition that called on the local council to withdraw the objection against the new line. Even those petitioning were aware that, «while it is certainly not pretty» at least the new line will be built much further away from the villages.

Gerhard Kiechler
Gerhard Kiechler, Mayor of Goms

Energy is omnipresent

Right from the start, the new extra-high-voltage line was a hotly debated topic in Goms. Initial projects for the new line started back in the 1990s, long before Swissgrid took over responsibility for the project. It is always a challenge for a local authority to keep an overview of these kinds of infrastructure projects. The plans were displayed to the public in 2008 and construction of the line started in 2017. «As a municipality, we have little influence,» points out Kiechler. He compares it with the sectoral planning process for the Münster airfield at the time. The Federal Council has decided that the airfield would remain in the sectoral plan. «This made it clear to me that we did not need to discuss the line because the sectoral planning process for the power line was over. The aim now was to get the best possible line route solution for the municipality.» Kiechler believes that the local authority’s task is to raise awareness amongst the local population. It would not send out negative signals, but rather show citizens that the line is necessary.

Above all, Kiechler sees the benefits of the new line: «The new line ensures that the municipality has a secure power supply, as the 65 kV line also runs along the new route. It is more secure there. In the past, we suffered numerous power failures due to the failure of the lines on the valley floor.

This prompted Gerhard Kiechler to swing into action in Goms. The planned «futurumgoms» theme park will give locals the opportunity to learn about future topics in the areas of energy, the environment and education and track the research and development of new products. The exhibition is dedicated to the key milestones and inventions from the energy sector, the different technologies for electricity generation and the future of digital society. An important part of this is a secure supply of electricity for Valais and Goms.



Author

Jan Schenk
Jan Schenk

Communication Manager

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