What’s in the toolkit for you?: 

As representative of a TSO this toolkit helps you to identify relevant aspects for communication and stakeholder involvement activities surrounding grid development projects. While your company might already deal with several of these aspects, this toolkit can help you identify specific elements that your company might not have included yet in its communication strategy. You might, for example, find information on stakeholders or communication channels that so far have not been integrated in your company’s communication strategy with regards to grid development projects. In addition, you will find several examples of communication activities throughout Europe that can inform and inspire your company’s activities. This means, in a nutshell, that you can use this toolkit to check whether your company’s communication activities can still be enhanced or amended in order to raise acceptance for grid projects.

How does the toolkit work?: 

The toolkit is structured along categories of communication and participation elements in the context of power grid projects. These include the different Stakeholders involved, the Project stages, the communication Channels, the communication Formats and the Contents 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 communication elements in the context of grid projects work together. 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 have 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 TSO 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 company. Second, you can follow the more detailed explanation below which describes all relevant aspects along the different stages of a grid development project including a part on communication risks that your company might face during a grid project.

Using the toolkit along the project stages

The following part gives you hands-on advice for each project stage with regards to which toolkit elements are potentially most important to you and can best inform your company’s communication activities surrounding grid projects. Since your company is typically the main project developer of grid projects in the area it covers, in general all project stages are highly relevant. However, you might be interested in a specific projects stage since some of the grid projects your company is working on have already advanced to these stages. This “walk” through the toolkit does, however, not only state which elements are most important but also tie the elements to one another enhancing the user-friendliness of the toolkit. In the end, this explanation aims to give you as user a detailed suggestion of which communication elements are most important regarding your company’s strategy for raising public acceptance of grid projects and how these elements are interlinked. The Annex provides you with insights on which aspects of your communication activities might entail risks and how you can mitigate these risks.

Phase 1: Determination of need

At the stage Determination of need, on the EU-level as well as on the level of the different Member States the necessity for building grid lines is assessed and defined. Your company typically takes an active role in the hearings and negotiations on the EU-wide Ten Year Network Development Plan (TYNDP) and on the national Network Development Plan that affects the area that your company covers. At the end of the national stages for the Determination of need, the number of grid projects that are to be carried out is fixed and starting and ending points of new grid lines are defined.

While during this stage, strong opposition to grid projects usually does not form yet, it is crucial to use it to develop a climate of transparency and trust. For the Ten Year Network Development Plan the EU-wide TSO business association ENTSO-E has already started to invite several stakeholders to contribute to the development plan. For example, ENTSO-E has started to institutionalise the dialogue among TSOs, Environmental NGOs, Permitting authorities, Regulators and Power producers in a Long-Term Network Development Stakeholders Group. Institutions such as this group offer your company the opportunity to build a cooperative relationship with the other stakeholders and receive detailed input on their concerns and interests. In addition, ENTSO-E invites all interested stakeholders to submit written comments to key documents such as the TYNDP.

Being as transparent as possible at this early stage is also highly recommendable for each single TSO. In the Determination of need profile you will find a list of stakeholders that should be actively involved when, for example, developing a national Network Development Plan. Those stakeholders for which individual contact persons can be identified, such as for Environmental NGOs, Permitting authorities, Regulators, Power producers, National/regional policy makers, Experts/Academia, Industrial consumers or Private consumers, should be contacted via in-person channels, such as Roundtables or Closed-door meetings to be able to fully include their input and respond to doubts and questions. For some stakeholders, such as Environmental NGOs, this stage might be too early to give detailed input since concrete routes for the grid lines are not yet discussed and hence their environmental impact cannot be assessed. However, the input from these stakeholders can be included in a general way at this early stage, e.g. in the form of general environmental aspects that grid projects have to pay attention to.

In addition, it might be helpful for your company to set up a Project website for the consultation process which is open to the public and can also be accessed by non-experts including those who might later become affected locally by grid projects. While it might be difficult to attract much attention from non-experts at this stage, your company might think of proactively involving the Media, especially national and supranational media entities, who can spread information on the events happening at the Determination of need stage. All this helps to build trust since other stakeholders do not get the impression of the TSO hiding information and ignoring the interests of other stakeholders.

At this stage, the content discussed is relatively abstract since the concrete locations of grid lines are not yet determined. Your company should therefore always properly communicate the project context, for example the connection between the need for grids and the integration of renewables. The Project website is an adequate channel for publishing relevant material in this regard. In addition, Project timetables, e.g. covering the schedule for meetings with stakeholders, should be made available to the public in order to enable transparency. Similarly important is conveying information on the role that your company is taking in the grid development process (Information on project developers) as well as disclosing which staff members are to be contacted for further inquiries.

Phase 2: Project preparation

During the Project preparation phase, the first plans for specific project are being developed and various options for routing and other key choices are being evaluated. At the end of this stage typically several routing alternatives have been developed for the specific grid lines that need to be build according to the results from the Determination of need stage.

Similar as for the previous stage, strong opposition to the grid projects has usually not evolved yet and public interest in them remains low-key. However, this stage bears the potential for your company to directly benefit from concrete input from other stakeholders, most importantly on the routing alternatives that are being discussed, and build strong alliances. This is especially the case for Environmental NGOs who can provide very useful information on the potential environmental impact of different routes and help determine feasible alternatives. In addition, if it can already be foreseen that concrete communities will be affected by the grid lines, it can be helpful to contact Local elected officials in order to find out about their concerns and suggestions regarding grid lines. While Local citizens’ initiatives (LCIs) with a focus on the specific grid project usually do not exist yet, there might still exist some that have been formed with regards to other, previous (infrastructure) projects and are likely to become active again on the grid project. If these can be identified, they should also be contacted for input on the route alternatives. During the process of finding feasible routes, your company should also look for advice from Regulators, since they often have significant technical expertise and can help with their network.

At this stage, keeping an updated Project website is particularly useful to create transparency. You might also consider writing regular newsletters to stakeholders that subscribe to them. Since the group of people that is likely to be directly affected by the grid project becomes more concrete at this stage, events open to the public such as Public space events and Town hall meetings can be of added value in order to enter into dialogue with local stakeholders. In addition, when it comes to elaborating routing alternatives together with stakeholders, Closed-door meetings and Roundtables are highly appropriate. Furthermore, as for the previous stage, the Media can play a crucial role as distributor of information. In contrast to the first stage, however, it makes sense to also involve regional media entities in order to spread information in a more targeted way to those who might eventually become directly affected by grid projects.

In order to keep full transparency, you should always keep stakeholders informed about all Technical details on the project as far as they are already available and provide them with updated Project timetables. As for all stages it is important to convey information on the role that your company is taking in the grid development process (Information on project developers).

Phase 3: Spatial planning

At the Spatial planning stage out of the various concrete route alternatives, one appropriate corridor for the specific grid line is being developed. This corridor typically still has a width of several hundred metres. The procedure for the Spatial planning stage can differ significantly depending on the legislations of the respective Member State. Usually, the TSO needs to propose corridor alternatives to the competent Permitting authorities who then have to decide whether one of the alternatives can be chosen.

The definition of specific corridor alternatives at the end of the Project preparation stage usually brings with it a stark increase in public attention to the project. For the first time, the grid lines become a tangible reality to non-expert stakeholders and local Adjacent communities, their Local elected officials and Land owners who find themselves in one of the corridor alternatives see that there is a likelihood that they are directly affected by the grid projects. This is also the stage when any form of citizen action groups (LCIs) are often founded who then become active as opponents to specific grid lines. All this means that your company should actively try to reach out especially to the local stakeholders to ensure that their concerns are acknowledged properly and acceptance can be raised for the grid project. The concerns of local stakeholders typically surround aspects such as health issues, visual impact by the grid lines and loss in property value for property close to the grid lines. Similar as for the previous project stage, the expertise of Environmental NGOs can help your company to find the route that has the least environmental impact.

There are several channels that your company can make use of for reaching out to local stakeholders. Public space events and Town hall meetings can typically address a relatively high number of individuals and are appropriate for informing a significant share of entire Adjacent communities. At these events, other stakeholders can be invited also in their capacity as drivers of the grid project. This includes National/regional policy makers or Permitting authorities and Regulators. Especially Town hall meetings can be combined with channels that allow for more direct interaction, for example a World Café, allowing the local stakeholders to participate in the definition of corridors. If concrete people can already be identified that will likely be affected by the specific grid project, for example owners of large land parcels, your company should consider engaging in Doorstep visits to them since they might have important individual concerns and suggestions. If your company encounters strong opposition from the side of the local stakeholders, you might consider putting in place an independent Mediator who helps to resolve conflicts. Furthermore, for tapping the expertise of expert stakeholders such as Environmental NGOs, your company should consider channels allowing for direct interaction such as Roundtables and Closed-door meetings.

This project stage is typically the first one at which your company can meaningfully address Compensation measures since the potential recipients can be identified. They should be openly communicated to the local stakeholders, for example at Town hall meetings. In addition, the Grid Story can help your company to properly address the concerns of local stakeholders, e.g. when it comes to a discussion about different technologies such as the decision for underground cables versus overhead lines. Furthermore, the Project location, i.e. the location of the proposed corridors should be disclosed as early as possible, i.e. by making use of Infographics on the Project website. As for other contents that need to be communicated such as Technical details, Timetables and Information on project developers the same applies as for the previous stage: You should carefully update the information that is published. In order to convey this content to other stakeholders, it also makes sense to put it into formats that can especially help to communicate with local stakeholders such as Presentations and Brochures/Flyers/Leaflets/Fact sheets. In addition, at this stage, local Media becomes increasingly important. Your company should try to make sure that essential content is always properly communicated to the local media entities, such as radio stations or newspapers in order to keep local stakeholders informed.

Phase 4: Permitting

At the Permitting stage, the procedure for the approval of the concrete project plan takes place. The goal of this process is to approve a precise route plan for where the newly developed grid line should be built. Depending on regulations specific to each Member State, Permitting authorities or Regulators will start a consultation or a public application conference before or after the application is handed in.

This stage is typically the most contested one on the local level. Local stakeholders such as Adjacent communities, Land owners and LCIs show most interest and are likely to voice most opposition during the permitting stage since concrete local individuals face being directly affected by the grid project. Local elected officials can also play a crucial role. If they are not generally opposed to the grid project, they can act as intermediary between the project developers such as your company and the local affected stakeholders. In addition, to the local stakeholders Environmental NGOs should be consulted to help identify all relevant environmental issues with the grid project.

Since the directly affected local stakeholders can now be identified precisely, your company should try to reach out to them in a way that their concerns can be addressed on the most individual level that is feasible for your company. Doorstep visits, Roundtables and Closed-door meetings can be appropriate channels since they allow for direct interaction between your company in the capacity as project developer and the affected local individuals. Similarly, Public space events can be an adequate means of communication and interaction and a way to find out about the concerns of the affected local stakeholders. Town hall meetings should only be used if not strong opposition has formed yet since otherwise your company might risk that the atmosphere at these events heats up and impedes constructive interaction. As for the Spatial planning stage, putting in place a Mediator can help to significantly mitigate conflicts. In addition, a Project website should continue accompanying the project.

The content that needs to be communicated at this stage is essentially the same as for the Spatial planning stage. It is crucial that your company discloses all relevant information with regards to Project location, Technical details, Timetables and Information on project developers to the other stakeholders and updates it on a regular basis. In addition, your company should proactively address Compensation measures. The formats that are to be used for this remain the same as for the Spatial planning stage as does the interaction with local Media.

Phase 5: Construction

During the Construction stage, the grid line becomes visible to all stakeholders. While typically only minor changes to the design and location of the grid are possible anymore, the communication activities of your company should continue in order not to lose acceptance for the grid project and offend the local stakeholders.

Interaction with Adjacent communities, LCIs, Local elected officials and Land owners should therefore still be actively pursued by your company. While they cannot be integrated into the planning for location, design and technology of the grid anymore since these aspects are fixed at this project stage, their concerns, for example with regards to health issues, might still not be fully resolved. Similarly, Environmental NGOs might want to monitor whether their demands and suggestions are fully included in the actual construction of the grid.

For all local stakeholders, Field visits can be a highly appropriate way of interaction. This means that your company can take groups of stakeholders to the construction sites and explain how their concerns were acknowledged in the actual construction of the grid. You might consider inviting independent Experts to these Field visits providing a non-biased view that is more likely to be accepted by the local stakeholders than a standpoint conveyed by your company. In addition, a Citizens’ helpline and a Project office can help since they offer local stakeholders the opportunity to directly contact your company if they have specific concerns regarding the construction of the grid. The Project website should also keep stakeholders informed throughout this stage.

As for the previous project stages, it is absolutely necessary that you provide the local stakeholders with updated information on Technical details, Timetables and Information on project developers. The appropriate formats are the same as for the previous stages.

With regards to the content that needs to be communicated, your company should focus on the correct and timely delivery of the Compensation measures to both Land owners and communities at large that have been agreed on at previous stages. In addition, especially the health concerns can be addressed by providing detailed information Technical details, including the actual electromagnetic fields around the grid.

Phase 6: Operation

At the Operation stage, the newly developed grid line is operational and transmits electrical energy. The features of the grid line are not changeable anymore. Your company should focus on ensuring that operation is running smoothly, and that no unexpected technical or environmental issues arise. At the same time, your company should make sure that the concerns of the local stakeholders are still acknowledged.

The most important stakeholders that need to be addressed remain are the Adjacent communities and the Land owners. LCIs typically do not play an important role anymore since their main raison d’être, the opportunity to change aspects of the grid project, has disappeared.

When it comes to communication with local stakeholders, it might be useful to continue making use of Field visits, for example in order to show how the grid functions and how strong the electromagnetic fields are that it causes. As for the Construction stage, it can be helpful to engage an independent expert for this. Specific, personal concerns can be addressed by keeping a Citizens’ helpline (which might not be necessary for the specific project anymore but rather for the whole grid). Additionally, the Project website can keep stakeholders informed about the functioning of the grid, e.g. by tracing back the sources of the energy that is transmitted and showing that these include a significant share of renewables. In addition, given your company did not face extreme opposition from the side of the local stakeholders, your company might consider an opening ceremony to which local stakeholders as well other stakeholders that have contributed to the grid project, e.g. Environmental NGOs and National/regional policy makers, as well as Local elected officials, and communities at large can be invited.