Power Grids & Biodiversity

Solutions for conflicts between climate protection and nature conservation

Citizens' initiatives are dragging out Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for new power grid lines. Public participation is therefore subject to criticism. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) could be used to resolve disputes and relieve EIAs for power grids without compromising participation rights.

The outdated grid infrastructure needs be strengthened to meet the needs of renewable energies. Opposed to this are health, nature and landscape protection, as well as fears that new transport capacities will primarily serve the interests of electricity trading by coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

Demonstration by IG Erdkabel against the construction of a new extra-high voltage transmission line in Salzburg

EIA rights cannot be avoided in the field of practice

In both Austria and Germany, there is considerable resistance to the construction of new power links, which means that it is not easy to adapt the grid infrastructure.

For years now, business lobbies have therefore been calling for tighter deadlines and a reduction in public participation in EIAs. But this misses the point. The report of a representative of the citizens' initiative "110 kV adé!" at our event Citizens' initiatives against network operators shows why. The initiative was originally denied EIA at all. This refusal to allow public participation, however, fuelled local resistance. The citizens' initiative managed to block the construction of the pipeline even without party status or other rights. After about nine years of resistance, the European Court of Justice finally decided in favour of the citizens' initiative in August 2018: An EIA had to be performed, all previous permits are invalid.

The SEA can resolve disputes in advance

One SEA can be used as the basis for several power grid EIA procedures

This case of "110 kV adé" shows: refusal or curtailment of public participation is counterproductive. On the contrary, if you want to reduce resistance to grid projects, you need to increase participation. This has to be done even before the EIA procedures begin. The instrument of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is ideal for this. SEAs can be used by grid operators to resolve fundamental issues in advance at round-table meetings with the administration, environmental protection organisations as trusted members of the public and independent experts:

  • Do renewable energies really need this link?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of overhead lines and underground cables?
  • How to reconcile the interests of biodiversity, residents, society and grid operators in the case of an actually necessary project?

 Together at the round table, it is possible to examine where the network needs to be strengthened for energy system transformation and security of supply. In addition, criteria can be laid down on how controversial issues such as routing, underground cabling or electromagnetism are to be dealt with in the projects to be approved. If agreement can be reached on these issues in advance in future, it will not be necessary to re-examine them in every EIA.

Potential structure of participation in an SEA using round table discussions to form a master plan for the power grid.

If the parties involved reach a consensus on these issues in the SEA, the EIA procedures for the individual grid projects are dramatically relieved, as experience from the construction of wind farms or waste incineration plants impressively shows. ÖKOBÜRO has therefore adapted the model of the SEA Round Table for grid planning.