Blackouts that left thousands without electricity for over a week are due to the wrong kind of wind

  • Storm Arwen left nearly one million homes blacked-out for several days
  • According to energy bosses, power cuts were caused by wind blowing in the wrong direction. 
  • Suggestion that Arwen’s gales caused more damage than expected stunned MPs
  • Power firms have spent £730million on ‘resilience’ over the last five years 

The disbelief of energy executives was caused when they blamed the power cut that resulted in thousands being blacked out over more than one week for wind direction changes.

Yesterday, hundreds of businesses and homes were again without power in the aftermath of Storm Barra. However, properties were reconnected twelve days later after Storm Arwen.

The suggestion that Arwen’s north-easterly gales caused more damage than would be expected from the prevailing south-westerly wind stunned MPs, who said power networks should be ‘prepared for wind coming in multiple directions’.

Paul McGimpsey, of the Energy Networks Association, told the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee that the wind coming from the North East meant that in many cases ‘trees would fall differently on to the lines’.

Committee chairman Darren Jones expressed incredulity at the suggestion that networks might base plans on wind coming only ‘in a certain direction’. 

A fallen tree blocks the A702 near Coulter in South Lanarkshire as Storm Barra hits the UK and Ireland with disruptive winds, heavy rain and snow on Tuesday

A fallen tree blocks A702 at Coulter, South Lanarkshire.

Mr McGimpsey said this was not the case but wind direction was a ‘particular issue’ with Arwen.

Nearly one million houses in England, Wales, and Scotland were made black after Arwen. 

Yesterday, the few remaining hundred people in North-east England were finally connected.

After Barra yesterday’s flood warnings, three were issued in England. Five in Wales had them. Forecasters however predict that today will be a day of lighter winds and dryer spells.  

Mr McGimpsey told MPs: ‘One of the particular issues we have faced with this storm which has been different to what we faced in the past – the wind direction coming from the north-east,’ he told MPs.

‘It is not prevailing winds that you would expect from the south and as such in some, many occasions, trees would fall differently onto the lines.’

Labour MP Darren Jones, chair of the committee, retorted: ‘Can I just check that I’m hearing this right?

An Openreach engineer fixes telephone lines near Barnard Castle in County Durham in the aftermath of Storm Arwen

Openreach engineers fix telephone lines at Barnard Castle, County Durham after Storm Arwen.

Soldiers pictured arriving at St John's Chapel in Weardale, County Durham last week to help local residents who had without power for days

Soldiers pictured arriving at St John’s Chapel in Weardale, County Durham last week to help local residents who had without power for days

‘We planned for resilience work on the basis that the wind would only come in a certain direction?’ 

Mr McGimpsey replied: ‘No, I’m not saying that.

‘I’m just saying that this storm has caused particular issues and the wind direction was one of those.’

He added that power firms had spent £730million on ‘resilience’ over the past five years, including flood defences and cutting down trees near electricity lines.

Mr Jones responded: ‘It does seem to me that we ought to be prepared for wind coming in multiple directions and £730million over that number of years doesn’t sound like a lot of investment from my perspective.’

Mr McGimpsey was citing a Met Office report which said the ‘unusual direction of the strongest winds’ may have been ‘an additional factor influencing the number of trees brought down’.