Environmental NGOs

Stakeholder role in grid projects: 

Environmental Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are key stakeholders to consider and engage throughout various stages of a grid development project. These organisations are mainly concerned about minimising various negative environmental impacts, and usually have different specific areas of focus, as well as different scopes of activity (e.g. local versus national). 

On a general level, Environmental NGOs may often be in favour of grid development insofar as it helps address climate change issues, for example by modernising grids and improving efficiency and by facilitating a transition towards greater use of renewable energy sources. 

However, while they may support some aspects of grid development if it indeed serves to respond to climate change, they are also concerned with ensuring that this development follows a “green” vision and that it is minimally disruptive to natural habitats and biodiversity, both generally and on a project-specific local scale.

Environmental NGOs can play a prominent role in a grid infrastructure project, historically often in an opposition capacity but more recently in increased collaboration with TSOs and other stakeholders. 

On a national level, Environmental NGOs are increasingly involved in discussions regarding energy and grid development plans, and collaborate with Transmission system operators (TSOs) and public officials to help promote green energy planning.

Environmental NGOs which oppose a local project due to its disruption of natural habitats or other environmental (or potentially health and social) considerations may become vocal opponents to the project. On the other hand, in certain regions, Environmental NGOs increasingly collaborate with TSOs, providing input on environmental issues relevant to a project. Nonetheless, challenges remain with regard to effective collaboration between TSOs and Environmental NGOs, particularly on a local level.

Environmental NGOs can also potentially help provide input into environmental scoping documents prepared in the course of a project, such as Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) or Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). They can further help define key environmental issues to be considered during a project, and can highlight potential environmental problems arising from infrastructure, thus helping TSOs to develop an optimal corridor route.

Primary concern with grid projects: 
Usual patterns: 

Environmental NGOs’ interests and motivations with regards to grid development can be distinguished between at least two levels: a higher (national or supra-national) level and a lower (local) level. 

Relatively few national or European Environmental NGOs have a strongly negative attitude towards the concept. Indeed, at a higher level, Environmental NGOs tend to believe that some grid development is necessary in order to effectively integrate renewable energy sources and reduce the need for redispatch measures, though they encourage improved planning and maximised efficiency in order to ensure that only necessary lines are built. 

In the view of most Environmental NGOs, grid development must be based on a coherent green vision, which includes large renewables integration, energy efficiency solutions and demand-side management. Environmental NGOs also tend to believe that flexible solutions such as storage and demand-side management will help limit the need for new transmission lines during the transformation of the grid. 

At the same time, Environmental NGOs usually strongly believe that natural environments should be taken into consideration in grid development, and that protection of biodiversity and habitats should not be compromised in the name of climate change mitigation.

Despite overall higher-level support for grid development, on a local level Environmental NGOs may be concerned about the local environmental impacts of project-specific grid construction. Given the significant potential for grid infrastructure disruption to local environments (e.g. natural environments, habitats, biodiversity and animal populations), local Environmental NGOs may be more resistant to specific projects, and may raise opposition points based on specific local impacts. 

Interests and motivations may thus vary between different levels of a large national Environmental NGO. The national-level organisation may favour well-planned and designed grid development, while local branches may be opposed to particular projects, as they do not meet the expected levels of environmental protection. 

When it comes to communication and participation in infrastructure projects, Environmental NGOs strongly value transparency in communication, and are interested in being consulted and given the chance to participate in the decision making process.

 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Are Environmental NGOs involved in the national-level energy or grid planning process? What is their opinion on grid development? 
  • Which Environmental NGOs are active in the region affected by the specific project? (either via local Environmental NGOs or local branches of national organisations) What are their primary concerns, both generally and with regards to the project?
  • Do local chapters of national or international Environmental NGOs exist in the nearby area? Are they influenced by the high-level interests of the Environmental NGO at large? Do national-level Environmental NGOs make an effort to communicate with their branches? 
  • What are the key concerns of the Environmental NGOs most active in the local community and nearby areas?
  • Which methods for transparent communication and engagement do relevant Environmental NGOs propose?
Topography within stakeholder group: 
Usual patterns: 

“Environmental NGOs” is a relatively broad term, and can refer to groups with varying missions and areas of focus. At least three general types of Environmental NGOs can be distinguished with respect to grid infrastructure projects: Environmental NGOs focused on climate change, NGOs for landscape protection (defending the rural landscape) and those NGOs focused on environmental protection (e.g. habitats, biodiversity, birds etc.). 

Climate NGOs are primarily interested in, for example, climate change mitigation and greenhouse gas emissions, and may therefore tend to have a generally positive view on grid development efforts and accompanying integration of renewable energy sources and improvements in energy efficiency.

Environment protection NGOs are primarily interested in biodiversity and habitat preservation, and may tend to be more opposed to grid development, due to the disruptive effects of infrastructure construction on the natural environment.

 

 

 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which types of Environmental NGOs exist in the local community or the surrounding area?  

  • Which types are already most active, and which are most likely to react to the announcement of a grid project?

Individuals within stakeholder organisations/entities: 
Usual patterns: 

National- or headquarter-level Environmental NGO representatives are often the first to be contacted by TSOs, and then refer TSOs to relevant individuals within local-level branches near specific projects.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which individuals within the national branch of the Environmental NGO are appropriate contacts for TSOs and could be able to redirect them to the local branches?
Project stage for engagement: 
Usual patterns: 

The Determination of need phase typically tends to involve national-level (rather than local) Environmental NGOs. Also, NGOs can play a role on the European level as there are opportunities to engage with the ENTSO-E Ten-Year Network Development Plan (TYNDP), with the selection of Projects of Common Interest (PCI), and with the shaping of national grid planning (e.g. scenarios used in determining need). 

The process of planning EU-level or national-level network development requires the input of higher-level actors, and, as specific route corridors have often not yet been determined, it is often unclear which specific communities will be affected and which local organisations could get involved.

In this very early project stage, national Environmental NGOs could provide technical environmental input into the overall grid development planning, as well as expertise for environmental analyses conducted at this stage. 

In order to give NGOs the opportunity to effectively participate in this stage, TSOs and NGOs should jointly agree on structured processes that are designed to make sure environmental considerations are factored into planning. Strategic Environmental Assessments, which are an important part of each grid project, provide such a framework. NGOs can play a useful role in the steering group for an SEA process.

NGOs often have expertise on energy policy, and can therefore contribute to the development of grid development scenarios. In addition, Environmental NGOs can participate in the development of any additional environmental scoping or assessment documents at this stage, if any.

If convinced of the need for certain grid development plans, Environmental NGOs can be effective allies to TSOs during the need determination phase.

Environmental NGOs can also act as important multipliers to the greater public, diffusing information about grid development and associated environmental issues.

 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which national-level Environmental NGOs could get involved in this stage?    

  • On which issues would the feedback of Environmental NGOs be particularly helpful? 

  • Are any environmental scoping documents to be produced during this stage? 

  • How could Environmental NGOs be given the opportunity to participate effectively in this stage?

Usual patterns: 

At this stage Environmental NGOs and TSOs could start collaborating on a number of issues relevant to a specific project. As key preliminary project decisions may be made in this stage, early input from Environmental NGOs is essential to ensuring that potential environmental impacts and concerns are taken into account, and establish a collaborative rather than confrontational approach to further project development.

The role of Environmental NGOs in the later stages of the project can also be established during the preparation phase. NGOs can also participate in the development of any necessary environmental scoping or assessment documents at this stage (e.g. within the context of an SEA), and can propose preliminary ideas of environmental compensation or mitigation measures.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • On what issues could Environmental NGOs be consulted during this stage? 

  • Are any environmental scoping documents to be produced during this stage?    

  • How could Environmental NGOs be involved in the decision making and preparation process?

Usual patterns: 

TSO collaboration with Environmental NGOs can help identify essential environmental issues to consider in Spatial planning. Environmental NGOs can provide valuable input into studies to define corridor routes, and can pre-emptively identify potential environmental issues arising from poor route choices. NGOs can also participate in the development of any necessary environmental scoping or assessment documents at this stage, such as for SEAs which accompany development plans for projects in certain countries, and which help determine project routing. Further, they can propose preliminary ideas of environmental compensation or mitigation measures.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • What information could Environmental NGOs bring to the table to best contribute to route and Spatial planning? 

  • Are any environmental scoping documents to be produced during this stage?

  • To what extent can Environmental NGOs be involved in planning meetings? 

  • What are potential issues that Environmental NGOs and TSOs can elaborate together or cooperate on?

Usual patterns: 

Environmental NGOs can participate in, intervene in or perhaps even co-host public consultations, meetings and other events relating to the project. If an EIA or other environmental assessment document is required at this stage, the Environmental NGOs can provide expert input. At the permitting stage, Environmental NGOs can also propose mitigation or environmental Compensation measures to help reduce the project’s overall impact.

If environmental concerns have not been properly taken into account – or they were discussed but the final decision remained unacceptable from an environmental perspective – Environmental NGOs may take opposing action to the permitting process. Effective integration of Environmental NGO input in prior phases is therefore key to a successful permitting stage, and should improve reception of the decisions by NGOs.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Is there an Environmental NGO willing to intervene at or take part in hosting a public event?

  • What are potential issues that Environmental NGOs and TSOs can elaborate together or cooperate on?

  • Are any environmental scoping or impact assessment documents to be produced during this stage?

  • Is a discussion ongoing on possible Compensation measures and, if so, how can Environmental NGOs be encouraged to offer an opinion on environmental mitigation or compensation?

  • Are one or more Environmental NGOs dissatisfied with the consideration of environmental issues? Which opposition actions, if any, are planned?

Usual patterns: 

During this stage, Environmental NGOs can help monitor construction and warn the TSOs of any unanticipated negative environmental impacts which may arise. They may also propose mitigation measures for these issues.

For wildlife protection, the key issue is timing, i.e. disruptive work or vegetation management should be avoided during spring when birds are nesting. An ongoing dialogue with Environmental NGOs can ensure that particularities of the wildlife in the construction area are considered when planning the construction procedure.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • How can the TSO ensure an effective dialogue in order to address Environmental NGO’s concerns throughout the Construction stage?
Usual patterns: 

Environmental NGOs can help ensure that no unanticipated environmental impacts arise during the Operation stage. They can also make sure that the TSO is following through on proposed mitigation and Compensation measures, where relevant, for the local environment, habitats and biodiversity.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • How can continued input from Environmental NGOs during Operation be facilitated?    

  • What feedback loops can be established to ensure that feedback is continuously taken into account?

Adequate communication channels for participation/cooperation: 
Adequate communication formats for participation/cooperation: 
Further project-specific questions: 
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Country-specific examples: 

In Germany, Environmental NGOs are generally well-integrated into the power grid development debate – both into the overall reflection on grid development at the policy level and into specific projects at a local level. Environmental NGOs and TSOs have – for example – established cross-cutting, permanent expert panels and discussion groups to investigate the mitigation of hazardous impact of power lines on the environment. Moreover, several German Environmental NGOs are represented in policy-level initiatives like BestGrid or the Renewables Grid Inititative (RGI). 

Successful cooperations of Environmental NGOs and TSO in Hungary occurs where Mavir, the Hungarian TSO, showed interest in the concerns of NGOs and expressed this interest through volunteering for them, supporting their agenda financially and developing specific measurements to allow for compatibility between environmental needs and new power grids: e.g. the placement of artificial bird's nest platforms on power line pylons.

National Grid, the British TSO, has been working with Environmental NGOs in the past to establish grid trajectories that would reduce the environmental impact of the project, by including the NGOs’ expertise on local wildlife and habitats into the project planning. While some of these dialogues have broken down due to disagreements, others have led to successful collaboration.