Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Danes have power pylons down to a fine art

Sydney Morning Herald
28 Oct 2011, Page: 11

Denmark: Norbert Baars may 1101 know much about art, but he knows what he likes. No one is going to mistake the big 27-metre pylon, part of a power line that crosses his dairy farm in the hilly Danish countryside, for a Michelangelo. "It's one big clump of metal", said Mr Baars, who moved to Denmark several years ago because farmland is cheaper than in his native Netherlands. But the views of farmers like Mr Baars are of no slight weight these days. With the spread of renewable energy sources, such as wind and water power, the high-tension power lines that carry electricity to Danish cities and industries must be expanded and drawn anew. As in other countries, no one wants those pylons in their backyards.

So to break down that NIMBY, the Danes hit on the idea about a decade ago of having industrial architects, if not artists, design new, pleasingly sculpted pylons, the huge steel towers that sup-port the power lines. If the pylons looked more like, say, giant sculptures, the reasoning went, people might like them or at least be less resistant to having them nearby. The first such line went up several years ago, running roughly 16 km on 80 pylons, and crosses this farming village of about 900 people, just south of Mr Baars's farm. Erik Bystrup, an industrial architect from Copenhagen, won a competition organised by, the state owned utility that operates Denmark's energy grid, to find the most attractive pylon.

Unlike traditional pylons, with their lattice-work of gray galvanised steel, the ones that went up over Valsgard consisted of a single post, capped by a cluster of stainless-steel rods to hold wires that gleamed in bright sunshine almost to invisibility, obviously, there are limits to the artistry of pylons. They have to be tall and carry wires a certain distance apart, and they cannot be made of exotic materials that would bust the budget. Mr Baars tries to squeeze something positive out of the power line, noting its usefulness in navigating the area's narrow country roads at night. "Sometimes I think, 'Oh, just follow the pylons'", he said.