Project preparation

Project stage description: 

During the Project preparation stage the project developers typically elaborate the first corridor options to prepare for the application procedure. This includes the consideration and assessments of a lot of rather roughly defined route alternatives for the further development of the project. Typically, two to four broad corridor alternatives are elaborated in cooperation of planning offices and external stakeholders. It is therefore the stage during which certain local interests and particularities (such as natural reserves, historical sites, communities, infrastructures, etc.) can be directly integrated into the further project. 

Stakeholders should be actively asked to contribute their suggestions, to inform the project developers about local details that should be considered in planning the Project location and to share their concerns about the grid development project in general. An early dialogue on these issues has proven to be of considerable help in avoiding conflicts and resistance at a later stage. 

Apart from involving different stakeholders into the project planning, it is also important to give sufficient and transparent information about the context of the project. This will also outline the reasons behind the project and the effect it may have on the region or country (e.g. power needs to be transported from north to south, energy transition might benefit national industry). Early information about the long term benefits of the project, both to the community and to society as a whole (e.g. security of power supply, decreasing energy prices) can promote early acceptance. However, macro-level project benefits may appeal to stakeholders before they are directly affected by the project, and local-level impacts may reverse stakeholders’ opinions once they find themselves in an affected region.

A multitude of options exists for informing and engaging stakeholders during this stage, and TSOs should – in their own interest – make a real communication effort at this point. Considering the risk that stakeholder involvement and interest among certain groups can remain low during this stage, typically until the corridor or line routes are finalised and certain communities feel specifically affected. It is recommended to involve established representatives (e.g. politicians and associations) to get involved on behalf of the communities that they represent before local communities and individuals feel affected enough to organise and involve themselves.

Stakeholders involved in this stage: 
Usual patterns: 

In the first project stage "Determination of need", the decision for certain grid development project has been made on a high national or international policy level. It is now to be implemented by the responsible TSOs who begin to plan all aspects of the project at this stage. The Regulator or Permitting authorities can act as advisor and supervisor.

If not yet drafted, this stage includes elaborating and finalising the Communication strategy considering all other stakeholders that will be involved and/or affected during the project. This entails identifying the main multipliers (e.g. Local/Regional authorities and Environmental NGOs) and starting the dialogue at an early stage. All other stakeholders should be addressed early on as well, in order for the project planning to be able to take into account their main objections. However, exchanges that are initiated too early, before any concrete information is available, may not be particularly productive, as local stakeholders do not feel particularly affected by the project yet. However, exchanges should certainly occur when different options still exist and all final choices have not yet been made. This makes the engagement of local politicians, NGOs etc. at this stage even more important because they can represent the interests of local individuals and communities before they engage in the dialogue themselves. It is important that representatives communicate their engagement on behalf of their constituents and pass on their findings of the dialogue with the project developers.

With regards to stakeholder engagement in general, the TSO at the Project preparation stage must try to analyse what issues might arise during the implementation of the project. This means taking into account which actors would be most likely object to the project, what their main objections would be (e.g. visual pollution, declining house values, environmental issues and health effects), how these objections can be addressed and what compromises could be offered.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • What groups may be opposed to the project?    

  • What are the main arguments against the project?

  • How can other stakeholders be best informed via formal and informal means of communication?   

  • How can the TSOs act to involve key stakeholders early on?

Usual patterns: 

Local and regional officials can provide information on the general perception of the project and can provide specific information on local particularities to be considered in project planning. In addition they may be able to provide information about possible concerns and opposing views. 

They are important representatives for all individual stakeholders that will be affected by the project and have not yet become engaged in the dialogue.

Local and regional authorities could also act as important multipliers. Authorities involved in the dialogue as representatives of the local public should inform their citizens about the project progress and the extent to which their interests are considered by the project developers.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which local or other officials could provide useful input into the planning process?

  • How can they be best involved? How can they be encouraged to provide input and become engaged in the project planning?

  • How can elected officials be generally included to act as intermediates between the citizens (who elected them) and the project developers in case of conflicts?

  • Have regional or national officials been involved in the decision-making processes for the grid development project? If so, how can they be included in the project communication strategy to explain their decisions?

Typical channels to use in communication: 
Usual patterns: 

It is strongly advised that the project developers create project-specific websites at this stage or include useful project information in their main homepage. This allows any member of the public to access the information directly from the TSO, therefore increasing transparency. Possible contents are the explanation of the need for the specific grid development project, the project schedule and next steps, information on the project developers and possibilities to get involved and provide input from an early stage on.

The Project website could also include surveys or questionnaires to solicit public opinion and input in a less formal manner than an official consultation or debate. This helps to demonstrate the project developer's interest in taking public concerns into account and establishing a dialogue with different stakeholders at an early stage of the project. It also provides the TSOs with information about the issues that might arise during the further development of the project.

Websites can also be useful to NGOs, the Media, political authorities or any other stakeholders involved to publish their point of view and potential input and involvement with the project. 

Direct mailings or e-mailings to various stakeholders can ensure that they receive key information and can allow for distribution of targeted text-based or visual material, such as flyers, brochures and Fact sheets. 

The Project website is a good channel to provide stakeholders with dedicated contact information for any kind of requests or questions that may arise.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • What relevant project information already exists that could be published and does it need to be adapted for online publication?   

  • How can viewers be encouraged to visit the Project website to learn about the project?   

  • Can informal consultation formats be embedded into a Project website? 

  • Is establishing a newsletter regarded as helpful at this stage? Who could be interested?

Usual patterns: 

Interactive formats, such as events, visits or meetings of various sizes can help not only spread information about the project, but also solicit stakeholder input. 

Interactive formats can give stakeholders a chance to be involved, rather than simply informed, and may demonstrate the project developers’ willingness to actively engage other actors.

Communication on events is essential, in order to give stakeholders all possible opportunities to participate in Project preparation.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which stakeholders’ inputs are important at this stage? Given the resources needed for interactive formats, on which stakeholders should resources be focused at this stage?

  • What are the best forms of events and at what time should they be implemented? 

Usual patterns: 

More traditional media has proven to be a good source of advertisement and announcement for grid projects in early project stages in certain countries, such as Spain. In this case the media acts as a multiplier for the information to be distributed to the public. 

In other locations (e.g. Ireland), however, even positive engagement of traditional media in early project stages can be negated if public opinion changes during later project stages. 
Either way, traditional media, announcements and advertising can help raise awareness and spread information while the project is being prepared, in order to potentially boost public participation at the early project stages and keep the public informed and ensure that the project process is transparent.

Guiding principles of the reporting should be informative, objective and well-researched articles. Reader's comments as well as declarations of TSOs are common and should clearly be identifiable as such.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which media sources could be most effective at raising awareness for the project? 

  • How often and when are press conferences appropriate and useful?   

  • How can the media be supplied with the facts and information that are needed to produce objectively and well-researched reports?

Essential content communicated: 
Usual patterns: 

Certain Technical details may be communicated at this stage, if known. However, the most relevant details are likely to be developed in further project stages.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Are there any Technical details that are worth communicating at this stage?
Usual patterns: 

Compensation measures that are necessary or possible may not yet be specified at this stage of the project. It might be of interest to still inform the stakeholders that compensation could be given in certain cases.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Are there any legal constraints to Compensation measure?  

  • Can Compensation measures be addressed in such early stages of the project?

Country-specific examples: 

For large projects, determined by the length and voltage of the project, the RTE has to inform the National Commission on Public debate (CNDP), which then evaluates whether a public debate is required for the discussion of the project. The CNDP has been established by the French government and consists of 24 member organisations (NGOs, mayors, politicians). If a public debate is agreed upon by the CNDP, a public consultation takes place during the Project preparation and includes between five to seven meetings on the different topics relating to the project.

Since the introduction of new legislation in 2011, the need determination process in Germany includes public consultations and the Project preparation therefore is based on the results of the first consultation. Furthermore, TSOs are required to take the outcomes of a second consultation into account when preparing the further developments of the project.