Engineering design and permitting process
After the preliminary design of the project comes the definition of its concrete technical characteristics. What route should the line follow, considering constraints such as the presence of protected areas or of densely populated areas? How to minimise the environmental and social impact of the project?
In parallel to the basic engineering design, the project promoter may also approach local authorities to start the permitting process. Permitting procedures are specific to each country, and even to each local authority involved. Obtaining an administrative permit is a lengthy and complex process, even for PCI projects.
A key step in the permitting process is the public consultation. EU Regulation 2013/347 foresees as least one public consultation during the permit granting process, with the objective to help identifying the most suitable location or route of the project, and any relevant issue that should be addressed in the project’s application for permit.
Public consultation at early stage of the project supports the smooth and fast realization of the project and leads to increased public acceptance. It is common for TSOs to involve local communities in the definition of the best route for the project. Even so, local acceptance is very often a challenge and the main reason why 17 % of TYNDP 2020 transmission investments are delayed.
ALEGrO: Record speed thanks to citizen engagement
ALEGrO, which stands for Aachen – Liège Electricity Grid Overlay, is the first power bridge between Germany and Belgium. This 90-kilometre-long connection is a high-voltage DC cable between the Oberzier substation in the Rhineland and Lixhe in Belgium and can transmit about 1,000 MW. It is scheduled for completion by the end of 2020 and will make the European electricity network even more secure and powerful. The ALEGrO interconnector will enhance the market integration by enabling direct power exchanges between Belgium and Germany.
During the revision of the Development Plan and the Planning Permission, Elia and Amprion paid a special attention to the stakeholder’s management, developed several accompanying measures for residents near the infrastructure’s project and set up mitigation measures. One of these accompanying measures was dedicated, in 2016, during the Development Plan, to the municipality of Oupeye (Belgium). Citizens expressed their concerns about the project’s location and felt they did not have the answers to all their questions. The consequence being the willingness of the municipality of Oupeye to lodge an appeal against the project, Elia decided to set up two customised measures. The first measure was the organization of a visit for a group of citizens, representatives from the municipality and experts of Calais (France), where a similar high-voltage line was already underground. The aim of this action was to reassure people about the impact of this high-voltage line on its environment. The second measure was the organization of an exhibition in the town hall where citizens could meet experts, representatives of the municipality and representatives of Elia. These measures resulted in the municipality removing its appeal.
Greenlink: Going the extra mile with local communities reaps rewards for all
Greenlink is a major infrastructure project to build a 185 km electricity interconnector under the Irish Sea to connect the power grids of Ireland and Great Britain. Benefits include regional investment and jobs, value for money for consumers, and increased energy security and integration of renewables.
Critical to the project’s successful development has been that the host communities understand and buy in to these benefits. Greenlink’s comprehensive and inclusive approach to public consultation has reaped rewards and helped it reach significant milestones. Landfall for the HVDC power cable is in County Wexford in Ireland and in Pembrokeshire in Wales and engagement activities were focussed on the local residents, organisations, businesses and elected representatives there, with a commitment to open and honest dialogue following key principles:
- Starting early in the development process before detailed environmental work was carried out, meant the developer could draw on the input of local stakeholders, who could watch and understand the complexities of developing a project of this scale as it evolved.
- Tailoring the consultation to the community’s needs and interests involved conducting a detailed audit of stakeholders, investing the time to get to know the community and designing events and materials to be accessible and relevant.
- Resourcing the consultation process adequately, with locally-based representatives and the expertise of consultants, ensured questions could always be answered. For example, when health and safety concerns were voiced about Electromagnetic Fields from the cables, the developer commissioned a study on EMF and invited an expert to public exhibitions.
- A suite of consultation tools ensured the widest possible reach into the community and beyond, including four project brochures, exhibitions and meetings, a website, FAQs, telephone and email contact, media (including social media), feedback forms, and visual aids.
- Genuine two-way consultation has encouraged input, and points raised have been helpful in the project’s design evolution enabling, for example, Greenlink to choose appropriate cable routes and plan construction to minimise traffic disruption. Concerns raised about the impact on sensitive habitats and beach users at the Welsh landfall resulted in a commitment to using Horizontal Directional Drilling under the beaches on both sides.
The Greenlink consultation programme has run for more than two and a half years and included four rounds of public exhibitions, held in 8 towns and villages for a total of 24 days. In July 2020 the onshore planning applications in Wales received unanimous consent from the authorities. In Ireland, during the application preparation phase, the project’s approach to engagement has been held up as an example of good practice. The PCI process helped ensure Greenlink was developed using inclusive public consultation, but the developers are proud to have gone beyond the TEN-E requirements, resulting in a high quality design with a positive stakeholder response.
In the run up to construction, consultation continues and supplier events are planned for local businesses, helping ensure this significant infrastructure project delivers the benefits promised.