Early-stage Town Hall Meeting by 50Hertz

Organization name: 
50Hertz
Organization type: 
Primary contact person: 

TBD

Country: 
Project years: 
2009
Overall project context: 

Germany experiences one of the strongest changes in the EU in terms of its domestic power generation due to the envisaged shutdown of all nuclear power plants until 2022 (eight nuclear power plants were shut down in 2011 and the other nine are to follow step by step). The fast expansion of power production from renewable energy sources accompanies the nuclear phase-out. Thus, energy is high up on the political agenda and grid development is subject of a national public debate. 

50Hertz operates the transmission network in the North-Eastern Länder of Germany, where a lot of new renewables have been installed in recent years, producing much more energy than consumed in the region. In short, this requires the further development of the transmission grid system in order to transport electricity to the consumption centres further to the South. 

Project stage of engagement: 

In its grid projects, 50Hertz has tried to establish a spirit of transparency and openness from early on by publishing extensive information on the planned projects and reaching out to affected local stakeholders thereby creating trust that later a growing stakeholder dialogue can build upon. 

As a part of this general approach, 50Hertz gained the experience that it is helpful to reach out to affected stakeholders as early as possible and involve the public in the projects – before official spatial planning and permitting procedures commence. In order to establish a constructive dialogue with stakeholders of each project and in order to collect local input when developing corridor alternatives, 50Hertz organises Town hall meetings at a very early project stage. 

Organising first Town hall meetings at the project preparation stage gives local stakeholders the chance to get information on the planned project as well as the planning procedures and concepts surrounding it. Getting in touch with affected stakeholders early highlights 50Hertz’s ambition to start and implement the whole project as a joint multi-stakeholder undertaking and marks the beginning of a cooperation that should ideally last for the entire project, i.e. for several years.

Besides informing local affected stakeholders to enable participation in the upcoming formal consultation, Town hall meetings at the stage of project preparation also bear the chance for stakeholders to voice their concerns at a stage at which few details of the project have been decided yet and – particularly – input regarding the preferred routing can be included in the planning. 50Hertz has experienced that the input given as part of such events is very useful as it enriches the planning data with locally-sourced knowledge before the opening of official spatial planning and permitting procedures. Especially within small-group workshops, very valuable input can be discussed and collected.

Description of relevant activities: 

Each event is thoroughly prepared. For 50Hertz, the individual inclusion of so-called multipliers and representatives from as many different regional and local stakeholder groups as possible is a crucial success factor of (early-stage) Town hall meetings. Therefore, 50Hertz has worked to build long-term relationships with relevant authorities on a regional level (policy makers, regulator, permitting authority, environmental NGOs) and reaches out to relevant local multipliers (Regional policy makers, local elected officials, local citizen initiatives, local environmental NGOs, local associations of land and forest owners etc.) via meetings. Relationship-building activities encourage key stakeholders of the grid development projects from the national and the local level to actively take part in the Town hall meeting, as they know what to expect from the TSO and the event as such. 

Participation of all stakeholders that are affected by grid development projects and also those that have responsibilities as part of the procedure has been proven very important for the entire projects. 50Hertz has experienced that a constructive stakeholder dialogue that advances a grid development project depends on different stakeholders living up to their responsibilities and play the roles they need to play. For example, 50Hertz’s Town hall meetings work much better if they can encourage policy makers to explain their national and regional energy policy or have Regulators or Permitting authorities explain their assessment of the technology used in a project.

In order to collect input from local stakeholders, 50Hertz has made very good experiences in designing the events in a way to give participants enough space and opportunity to voice their opinion and start a dialogue with the project developers. Therefore, 50Hertz combines plenary sessions with predominantly informative presentations with small-group workshops and break-out sessions. Each workshop is typically equipped with big maps of the project area showing the current status of corridor planning, e.g. different corridor alternatives. During the workshops, local stakeholders work together with 50Hertz's representatives on the maps in order to specifically discuss local concerns with the project. 

What worked well: 

Important success factors of 50Hertz’s town hall meetings but also their communication strategy as such are:

  • Being as transparent as possible from the very beginning on and using available information to support arguments with factual evidence. Working with information on loads and utilisation rates is a particularly important tool.
  • Building and maintaining long-term relationships with general stakeholders of grid development projects are important to encourage them to “play their roles” and also show responsibility during Town hall meetings. Since different stakeholders besides the TSO such as permitting authorities or regulators are responsible for various aspects of a grid development project, e.g. the regulatory framework, 50Hertz sticks with its primary role as the implementer of energy policy decisions. For other aspects, the respectively responsible stakeholders are called upon to speak to the affected population. This allows for a clear identification of the stakeholders’ roles and places the burden of communication on multiple shoulders.
  • Approaching all important local multipliers via in advance of the town hall meetings to brief them and invite them personally leads to higher and more diverse participation as well as a more active engagement during the event.
  • Combining presentations held in a big plenary session with small-group workshops where details of current planning location and corridor alternatives are presented. These workshops should be an essential part of the event and aim to identify, collect and discuss specific concerns of the participants. Also, participants might be less intimidated to ask specific questions in small workshops than a big plenum. In a way, the participants should hence be enabled to drive the agenda setting of the workshop – especially when the event takes place at a very early project stage.
  • The participation of TSO experts (technical, legal, planning, project management etc.) in the workshops is crucial as they are most suitable to fully answer specific questions and also to directly receive the participants input themselves.
  • It is helpful to have an (ideally independent) moderator to host the town hall meeting, to introduce the presenters as well as the project team and to explain the "rules of the game" for Q&A sessions and workshops (e.g. switching off mobile phones, letting each other finish, and making constructive criticism). 

 

Key content provided: 

50Hertz experienced that publishing all available content as early as possible increases trust as well as support and helps to build strong arguments. 

Key contents of an early stage town hall meeting by 50Hertz are: 

  • brief and appealing information materials on the activities of 50Hertz and their general role and mission
  • information of the procedures of grid development projects in general and the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders
  • specific information on this project, the Project timetable and the technical details
  • credible evidence as well as a recapitulation of the need of the project – even though it may have been officially determined already
  • maps on the current state of corridor determination that show local social and environmental sensitivities.

In general, the presenters at a Town hall meeting should bear in mind that the audience will at least in parts consist of stakeholders without any background knowledge in grid development. Therefore, they should give a good introduction into the field, using Presentation slides that are easy to understand and avoid as much technical language as possible (e.g. regarding legal processes of spatial planning or permitting). Moreover, they should ensure not to overload their presentations with information and keep them concise.

A typical request 50Hertz is commonly confronted with by the local participants of Town hall meetings is to provide evidence for the specific need of the grid development project and to prove the claim that it will serve the integration of renewables and/or enhance security of supply. As part of 50Hertz’s presentations held at the Town hall meeting, they substantiate their arguments with clear empirical evidence – tailored to the local grid situation. For example, in regions where renewable energy production has continued to grow over the last years, 50Hertz uses the local production and consumption data combined with the capacity data of existing grids to illustrate the need for the grid development project. Moreover, 50Hertz has developed an online tool showing real time data and of loads within the 50Hertz network. Using and referencing this data again to (the target audience of) town hall meetings has worked very well to foster public acceptance for the project. 

The publicly available utilisation rates of 50Hertz’s grids can be accessed via the following link: www.50hertz.com/lastflussdaten

 

Other key stakeholders involved: 

50Hertz personally invites local multipliers and distinctive stakeholders as part of their relationship building via meetings and invitation letters to participate in the event and possibly even be an active part of the presentation or the workshops. Moreover, 50Hertz announces the event through ads in local media and the internet to have as many interested members of adjacent communities as possible participating. 

Key communications channels used: 

The town hall meeting profile of this toolkit has been extensively inspired by the concepts of 50Hertz. If you want to learn more about good practice approaches for town hall meetings, we encourage you to continue reading in this profile.

Key communications formats used: 

50Hertz makes extensive use of Infographics as part of their presentations in town hall meetings and also on their website. These show, for example, the planned grid lines or the current degree of capacity utilisation of the existing grid. This dynamic, easily comprehensible format helps to significantly increase transparency.

Examples for 50Hertz’s publications can be found via the following link: www.50hertz.com/en/netzausbau.htm

Transferability to other Member States: 

In principle, the early-stage town hall meeting as practiced by 50Hertz is a suitable channel for first engagements of the local public in all European grid projects.