Permitting

Project stage description: 

At the Permitting stage, the plan approval procedure takes place. The goal of this process is to approve a precise route plan for where the newly developed grid line should be built. 

The final route corridor having been identified in the Spatial planning stage, the application/proposal documents are ready to be handed in by the TSO. 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. All issues not yet covered in the SEA are now being dealt with in a following EIA.

Application documents and EIA are now being revised; a consultation of all relevant public authorities, associations and the population directly affected by the project is carried out. 

This project stage ends with the plan approval granted by the respective Permitting Authority.

Public awareness is typically highest at this stage, as the corridor is narrowed down to a point where communities and Land owners find out they are directly affected by the grid development project. Therefore, there is a significant need for good communication, making use of dialogue platforms involving all important stakeholders, cooperation of the media and a strong management of public requests and concerns on the side of the TSO.

The peak of public awareness might also lead to a peak in public opposition. To avoid conflicts, all stakeholders should be aware of what to expect from each other and the roles of different stakeholders (as well as their own). For example, it should be made clear that politicians and other decision makers, rather than TSOs, are largely responsible for the general decisions made on the grid line.

Stakeholders involved in this stage: 
Usual patterns: 

TSOs should manage communication and stakeholder dialogue responsibly during the Permitting stage. This stage is a very crucial project stage as public awareness peaks due to the precise definition of the Project location – Land owners and communities finally find out if they are directly affected.

A dialogue with all relevant stakeholders should have been started as early as possible and should be intensified at this stage. This strategy has proven to help in reducing conflicts. 

The TSO should develop relevant contents, plan necessary events and make sure to invite stakeholders in advance. TSOs should also adapt communicated contents to communities who are now certain to be affected by the project. The TSO may also wish to launch a discussion of Compensation measures.

It is important to find a process for involvement that encourages all relevant stakeholders to contribute their concerns and suggestions. Workshops with local stakeholders (such as Land owners and members of LCIs – if there are any) can be a good tool but the host should bear in mind that most local stakeholders have a job or other obligations during the day so that all events are probably best to be held at a reasonable time after closing hour. Also, other possibilities to provide input and get in touch with the project developers (e.g. via e-mail, Citizens helpline etc.) should be publicly advertised. Moreover, local stakeholders should be informed (e.g. through media) what kind of input the project developers need at this stage.

During Permitting, TSOs should continue to follow their existing communication plan or make adjustments if there are lessons learnt. 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • What is needed to implement the communication plan at this stage?   

  • How can a dialogue with all relevant stakeholders be developed and maintained?   

  • Will it help to solve potential conflicts to ask affected stakeholders for input in order to make minor adjustments to transmission tower locations?

Usual patterns: 

National/regional policy makers have usually been involved in the debate for longer than individual citizens; some of them might even have taken part in the decision-making of a specific grid development project or projects.

For policy makers that played a role in high-level decisions on grid development, it is important to support the project developers in their communication strategy and take responsibility for decisions made. They or their representatives should be available for questions from the public and should be able to explain grid development decisions.

For policy makers that did not play a role in the decision-making, their main task is now to act as an intermediary between citizens, LCIs and the project developers. As policy makers have usually taken part in the former stages of the grid development project, they have more knowledge about the process and have been supervising the decisions made so far, representing their voters’ interests in the case of elected officials. It is their task now to share their experience and knowledge with the affected and/or interested population and to find a way to uphold a constructive dialogue between all stakeholders.

 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Have regional or national policy makers 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? 
  • For all other policy makers: How can they share their knowledge acquired at recent project stages with affected citizens that are not familiar with the project in order to support a constructive dialogue?
  • How can policy makers be generally included to act as intermediates between the citizens (who elected them) and the project developers in case of conflicts?
Usual patterns: 

The role of Environmental NGOs remains important at the Permitting stage. Their (early) assessment is needed for landmarks and peculiarities of specific parts of the corridor. Also, NGOs can play an important role as multipliers and mediators between local stakeholders and TSO.

NGOs can also help frame the environmental obligations for the construction and implementation of the project (e.g. certain bird protection procedures), as well as environmental Compensation measures which may be appropriate in the context of the project.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • How can NGOs be involved and get involved in the most effective manner?   

  • What are the environmental obligations of a certain power line?

Usual patterns: 

As the dialogue between the stakeholders intensifies, the role of the media rises at this stage. For all parties they can act as both a source of information and a channel for communication. 

It goes without saying that journalism should ideally be objective and independent. Even more so, this holds true for journalism during this "hot" stage of the grid development process. A biased reporting – coloured by any of the potentially conflicting stakeholders – can increase the conflict and hamper a constructive solution-orientated dialogue.

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: 
  • How can the media be supplied with the facts and information needed to allow for objective and well-researched reporting?
Usual patterns: 

In this project stage, it is finally decided which communities are going to be adjacent to the new grid line and who the owners of the project land are.

The interest of local stakeholders is therefore typically peaking now, as the impacts the project will have on their communities and lands is becoming real.
 
Local stakeholders may reasonably expect the TSO to provide clear and detailed project information, including an explanation and discussion of specific impacts on the community, and to set up platforms for dialogue and exchange. 

Land owners can expect to be approached by the project developers to ensure a fast and easy compensation process.

Even though key decisions of the project have already been made at this stage, affected stakeholders can, for example, contribute input for minor adjustments e.g. for precise transmission tower locations if they can provide good reasons for their request – in many cases this can help to solve conflicts and reassure stakeholders that their voices and opinions are taken into account. Local residents may also provide other requests and may negotiate individual or community-wide compensation or mitigation measures.

The implementation of events for local stakeholders, initiated by the project developers to foster direct communication processes are to be continued during the Permitting stage. Citizens of Adjacent communities should take this chance of getting first-hand information and making use of direct communication.

 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which communities can be finally identified as adjacent at this project stage?   

  • Who are the owners of the project land and how can they be approached directly?   

  • Which LCIs have been created in the immediate aftermath? What are their aims? Are they cooperative and constructive?

Typical channels to use in communication: 
Usual patterns: 

The Project website and Social media play an important role in supporting other stakeholders with the newest relevant information. This demonstrates transparency and creates trust as the public wants to be informed as soon as possible if decisions have been made that could affect them.

Transparency and a good approach to informing the public are crucial at this stage of growing public awareness and dialogue.

The Project website could also include surveys or questionnaires to solicit public opinion in a less formal manner than an official consultation or debate. This shows the TSO’s interest in establishing a dialogue with different stakeholders at all stages of the project. It also provides the TSO with information about the issues that are relevant to other stakeholders.

It could also be a good communication channel for NGOs, the media, political authorities or any other stakeholders involved to publish their point of view and potential input and involvement with the project.

 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • What is the relevant information and how can it be presented online?   

  • 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?

Usual patterns: 

There is a strong need for establishing good communication and exchange through dialogue platforms involving all important stakeholders at this project stage.
Depending on the intensity of opposition and their objectives, the TSO might choose appropriate meetings, dialogues and (information) events to meet the needs of different stakeholders. Interactive formats, such as calls, workshops, visits or meetings of various sizes can help not only to 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 stakeholders’ willingness to actively engage other actors.

Organisers of the events should bear in mind that local stakeholders have restricted time to take part in events and usually work during the day. Therefore, the TSO might think about organising several small local events instead of a bigger “centralised” one. Inviting people after closing hours or on the weekends will commonly lead to more participants. Just as crucial is an early and broad announcement of the events in newspapers, official community journals, public advertisements etc. The invitations should also point out why the input of local stakeholders is important and what kind of input the TSO is interested in.

Starting the communication process, involving all relevant stakeholders and understanding their concerns early on in the project will facilitate smoother exchange at the later project stages.

 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • How developed has the stakeholder dialogue been in the latest project stages? Does it need to be intensified?   

  • What are the appropriate channels and events best adapted to the needs of the stakeholders opposing the project at this stage?

Essential content communicated: 
Usual patterns: 

When the TSO is applying for permission for certain corridors, these corridors should be discussed and evaluated publicly with all relevant stakeholders. Maps are an important tool to visualise the evaluation and discussion of different locations. Afterwards, publishing the resulting Project location maps increases transparency in the process and keeps the stakeholders updated.

 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • How can the Project location be visualised best?   
  • How can other stakeholders be involved in the decision process concerning the final location of the project?
Usual patterns: 

The timing of the different steps entailed in the project (e.g. legal milestones of the Permitting process) should be communicated early and be updated as soon as the project developers make any changes, in order to give a clear sense of the project’s development to all parties involved.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Is any decision or action by external stakeholders required by a certain time to allow the timely development of the project?
Usual patterns: 

Technical details should be communicated to the other stakeholders in a clear and understandable way. This often means that highly technical language or contents should be summarised and simplified, or presented in a visual way, in order to facilitate comprehension by all stakeholders. Nonetheless, the TSO may choose to make comprehensive Technical details publicly available for those who would like to read them.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • How can the Technical details be communicated in a comprehensive manner? 
Usual patterns: 

The Permitting stage is the most relevant project stage for communicating and discussing Compensation measures, as the affected Land owners and communities are being defined at this stage. Various stakeholders may be involved in the negotiation of Compensation measures, including measures to benefit the community at large and those which serve to compensate specific affected Land owners.

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

  • What concepts can be developed to compensate affected individuals or communities?

Country-specific examples: 

In Spain, the permitting procedure encompasses three different processes, one for the Environmental Impact Assessment, one for the Construction Permit and one for the Operation Permit.

In Hungary, the Permitting procedure consists of six different processes: one each for obtaining the Agricultural Field Permit, the Environmental Permit, the Theoretical Permit, the Preparatory Work Permit, the Construction Permit and the Operation Permit.

In France, CNDP (Commission Nationale du Débat Public - National Commission for Public Debate) is a public authority responsible for ensuring public consultation and participation in infrastructure projects of national interest and consists of 24 members (NGOs, mayors, politicians) especially but not only in the Permitting stage but also at earlier stages of the project.