Environmental NGOs

What’s in the toolkit for you?: 

As an Environmental NGO, you have an active role to play in all stages of a grid development project, from the earliest stages of high-level need determination and grid planning through the Operation stage. The toolkit will guide you through some of the ways in which you may contribute your thematic and technical expertise, raise awareness about environmental impacts, play an active role in discussions with other stakeholders and serve as a key multiplier to keep the public informed about important aspects of the project. The toolkit will demonstrate some of the ways in which a TSO as the main project developer – or other stakeholders – may inform you about the project or solicit your input; however, it also serves to encourage you to proactively seek out opportunities for information and exchange if these are not initiated by the TSO.

How does the toolkit work?: 

The toolkit is structured along categories of communication and participation elements in the context of electricity grid projects, for example different stakeholders involved, the project stages, the communication channels, the communication formats and the content conveyed. Each of these categories contains several profiles specifying, for example, the different types of stakeholders or the different project stages. These profiles do not only provide a thorough description but also link the profiles to one another showing how the different elements work together in the context of grid projects. The descriptions are accompanied by questions that help to identify where further, project-specific information is needed. In addition, the toolkit provides several Practice Examples showing how different toolkit elements haven proven to work in the frame of real-life grid projects.

How do you make the toolkit work for you?: 

There are two recommended ways for using this toolkit: First, you can directly go to the Environmental NGOs profile where you will find a summary of all aspects related to communication on grid lines, e.g. other stakeholders, channels or contents, which are relevant for your organization. Second, you can follow the more detailed explanation below which describes all relevant aspects along the different stages of a grid development project.

Using the toolkit along the project stages

The following part will walk you through the different stages of a typical grid project, providing an overview of your potential role at different points. Further, it provides links to various elements of the toolkit – other stakeholders who may be involved in each project stage and with whom you may wish to establish a dialogue; communication channels used by TSOs and other stakeholders, which you may find to be of particular interest; project information which you may encourage the TSO to share or may further diffuse yourself, and so on. The guide places particular emphasis on those toolkit elements which are of relevance to you and your role in the project, and ties them together into a single NGO-specific way of thinking. This approach is designed to make it easier for you to navigate the toolkit in a logical way.

Phase 1: Determination of need

During the Determination of need stage, decisions are being made on high-level grid plans and no concrete location decisions have been made yet. It is therefore the national or regional-level branch of the NGO which will tend to be most involved at this stage.

Environmental NGOs can collaborate with other high-level stakeholders, and can contribute their environmental expertise and raise any key concerns during this early stage. NGOs can also participate in general Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) if appropriate at this stage (depending on country-specific requirements), for example by providing feedback on associated scoping documents. NGOs should ideally be invited by other stakeholders to provide their comments, but should also actively seek out collaboration and involvement in the need determination process. Early participation by Environmental NGOs can raise the chances that key environmental issues are taken into account in preparing the national grid plan or selecting priority projects. NGOs can also join the public in raising questions about the need for particular projects.

The toolkit provides you with some ideas of other key stakeholders involved in the need determination stage, including TSOs and National/regional policy makers. In order to provide effective input, you may wish to contribute to official consultations, but also to organise or attend Closed-door meetings with other stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. You may also call for a structure under which you would have a chance to more regularly collaborate with other key stakeholders throughout the duration of a project or beyond. One proven option is to establish a Roundtable dedicated to environmental issues, in which you can play a key role. In some cases, a permanent Roundtable or expert group may be established to continuously explore options for reducing environmental impacts of grids through optimal routing or technology choices.

Establishing early collaboration with other stakeholders, and particularly TSOs, can ensure a more fruitful and trusting relationship throughout a specific project, and can raise each party’s awareness of the other’s key concerns.

In this stage you may also serve as an important multiplier of information to the general public, including Private consumers and Land owners. This is particularly true as you may well be regarded as more “legitimate” than TSOs or national officials. You may therefore wish to take on an active role in disseminating information on the environmental implications of need determination and grid plan decisions. You may choose to disseminate this information to the general public via a number of channels, including your Website, Social media or traditional Media.

Phase 2: Project preparation

In the Project preparation stage, work is launched on a specific project and various options for routing and other key choices are being evaluated.

NGOs can provide early input to the project, by highlighting key environmental considerations and by providing feedback to, for example, scoping documents created in the course of an SEA during this stage. This is the opportunity for TSOs to identify key NGOs who will be active during the development of the project. While an NGO will likely be conducting its own stakeholder mapping to identify key actors, an NGO may want to proactively approach the TSO to establish contact. 

At this stage the TSO may begin to launch public consultations and meetings (e.g. Town hall meetings or Public space events) in regions potentially affected by the project. You may find it useful to have a presence at these early events in order to establish yourself as a key involved stakeholder. In parallel, you should continue to exchange in discussions with TSOs and other actors (e.g. Regional officials) via smaller Closed-door meetings and Roundtables.

The role of different stakeholders in later project stages is often determined during the Project preparation stage; it is therefore essential to initiate collaboration on a more local scale at this early stage.

At the same time, beginning in this stage and continuing throughout the project, you could pay attention to the TSO’s own communication on the project, in order to ensure that it is accurate and transparent. The toolkit provides ideas of key communication channels and formats which can be used by TSOs for wider dissemination, such as traditional Media, a Project website, Social media, TSO-produced Brochures/Flyers/Leaflets/Fact sheets and Exhibitions. As an entity with thematic expertise, you may call on the TSO to accurately represent environmental impacts of the project and any mitigation measures it may propose. In general, NGOs play an important role in upholding standards for environmental protection, public participation and transparency.

Phase 3: Spatial planning

The project takes on a more concrete form during the Spatial planning phase. Specific route options are being considered, and by the end of this stage, a more or less final decision has been made, with the affected local community determined.

During this stage, as different routes and other project aspects are being considered, NGOs can provide valuable input with regards to potential environmental issues arising from poor route choices. Specifically, they may contribute consultations or to scoping documents and project-specific SEAs occurring during this stage, in order to help define an optimal route.

During Spatial planning, you will likely continue your active participation in various public events. Indeed, you may want to consider taking a more active role in these events, for example by co-organising an event or participating as a speaker or panellist. You may also continue to participate in smaller meetings or Roundtables to provide your expertise. Once an affected community has been determined, you may also participate in – or co-organise – Field visits to other project sites, arranged by the TSO to grant members of the community hands-on exposure to the site.

You may also wish to further disseminate your position amongst the potential affected communities or the wider public in order to raise awareness around key environmental issues in the context of the project. The toolkit provides ideas of print and online mediums for spreading the word, for example by authoring an opinion article in a newspaper or on a Website, actively spreading and collecting information via Social media or creating Brochures/Flyers/Leaflets/Fact sheets for distribution in the community. You may want to take your dissemination activities a step further and build up a network of supporters who could help you draw attention to environmental issues. This can be done in person via Doorstep visits or Public events, or online via Social media.

Finally, you can continue to ensure that the TSO is keeping other stakeholders and the public about the decision making process and any decisions made. The toolkit provides examples of typical content which should be communicated by the TSO as the details of a project are being worked out, including Project location, Timetable or Technical details. Further, the TSO should make sure to inform the public about relevant Events. As a key multiplier of information, you may take on an active role in encouraging the TSO to be transparent in its communication, but also in helping to spread the word on project details and events yourself.

Phase 4: Permitting

The Permitting stage may be one of the most intense project stages, as final decisions have been made on routing and affected communities have been defined. Public interest in the project is therefore likely to peak at this time. Land owners and Adjacent communities, LCIs are likely to participate increasingly actively in discussions on the project. As a key multiplier and a representative for environmental issues, local NGOs should continue to be actively involved in the project’s development.

Certain aspects of NGO-TSO collaboration may be challenging at this stage, as disagreements may arise with respect to specifics with significant local impacts. Nonetheless, an effort should be made on the part of both stakeholders to engage in constructive rather than conflict-driven exchange.

You may, for example, continue to take an active part in Town hall meetings, public consultations and Public space events, which will include both TSOs and various local groups. You may also participate in – or arrange jointly with TSOs – Field visits to other project sites, in order to grant members of the community hands-on exposure to the site.

Aside from attending large events, you may also choose to participate in smaller Closed-door meetings or ongoing Roundtables with TSOs and other stakeholders (for example, Local elected officials or LCIs) in order to provide your input on various environmental issues to be considered at this stage.

In your role as a key multiplier of information, you may communicate via a range of other channels besides the in-person ones described above. Social media or Traditional media, for example, can be useful to quickly reach a broader audience.

As an expert on environmental issues, you may also provide contributions to an Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), which is generally conducted during this stage in consultation with different stakeholders. In this stage NGOs may also be approached by Media, Academia/experts who would like to know their opinions on the project’s Permitting stage.

Finally, you may play a role in proposing and negotiating potential Compensation measures, particularly those that involve compensation for or mitigation of environmental impacts.

The inputs of various stakeholders involved in this stage will ultimately affect the decision made by Permitting authorities.

Phase 5: Construction

During the Construction stage, Environmental NGOs have more of a monitoring role to play, in order to ensure that no unanticipated environmental impacts result from construction works. During this time, you could act as a sort of liaison between local communities (such as Local elected officials, Land owners, Adjacent communities, LCIs or even Private consumers) and the TSO. They could follow the day-to-day evolution of construction works and possibly report to other stakeholders.

Moreover, should unforeseen events occur with potential impacts on the environment, NGOs would have a leading role to play in identifying these impacts and pointing them out to the TSO. You should be prepared to collaborate with the TSO on potential solutions to unforeseen events.

If serious unplanned environmental disruptions are occurring due to construction, the NGO or may insist that the NGO communicate on this information via the various communication channels described in the toolkit, or may alert the Media, LCIs, Local elected officials or other stakeholders.

A potential hurdle in monitoring construction may be a lack of information, as all documentation on the construction works is likely to be owned by the TSO, with access given only to select stakeholders (e.g. Regulators). You may encourage the TSO to be transparent about the status and impacts of construction works. This may be particularly successful if you already have an established working relationship with the TSO, with mutual trust.

Phase 6: Operation

One of the NGOs’ major roles during the Operation stage would be to make sure that any promise made has been fulfilled by the TSO. If a TSO fails to meet its commitment (for example in terms of environmental or other Compensation measures), you may approach the TSO or eventually alert the Media.

During Operation, an NGO may also continue monitoring for unanticipated environmental impacts arising from the constructed infrastructure and its Operation.

During this stage, you may also wish to use interactive communication channels (like Social media or Project website) to broadcast regular information and updates on the project.

Furthermore, if any impact assessment has been planned a certain number of years after the grid infrastructure has been put into service, Environmental NGOs can play a role in the fulfilment of the study.