Public dialogue; Source: BNetzA

© BNetzA

The German energy transition is very much a joint effort that requires transparency and dialogue. For the reforms to be a success, they will have to be endorsed by the public. Whilst a large majority is in favour of the energy reforms per se, there is still a certain lack of acceptance for the infrastructure projects that are needed. Infrastructure projects such as the construction of electricity lines have an impact on people's lives and on the environment. It is therefore understandable that they should give rise to wariness and concern. At the same time, citizens are coming forward in ever growing numbers to actively shape the transition of our energy supply and are calling for more opportunities to get involved.

Establishing a new culture of dialogue - public dialogue on grids

Dialogue is way of reaching public consensus on major infrastructure projects of the kind that are needed to make the energy reforms a success. This can only work if there is a new culture of dialogue which takes account of the specifics of each case and of the interests of all those affected.

This is why, since January 2015, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has been supporting the initiative for a public dialogue on grids. This initiative follows a regional approach and focuses on so-called hotspots, i. e. municipalities where there is a particularly strong need for communication and discussion.

Starting in spring 2015, new citizen's bureaus for all matters linked to the expansion of the grids are to established to act as local points of contact for the public. These citizens' bureaus will provide information to the public on a case-by-case basis. Their work will be tailored to the needs and specifics of their respective regions. This is to ensure that the public's need for information is met, even where grid-expansion projects require long planning periods with decisions being taken at various levels, and irrespective of the individual scope for decision-making.

The citizens' bureaus will provide information to the public and also feed the public's input back to the authorities. Anybody affected by the expansion of the grid as well as the general public will be able to submit their questions, comments and queries at any time and receive a reply. In this way, the citizens' bureaus will pass on the expertise and the input of locals, which can make all the difference when it comes to resolving issues at local level.

Various formats of events, ranging from citizens' conferences to information markets, to discussion evenings where locals have the opportunity to get together in small groups, are also to be rolled out. This will allow locals to learn about the projects that are envisaged, to voice their concerns, and to discuss possible solutions - preferably before the formal process of involving the public begins. Mediation services will also be available where needed to supplement this dialogue.

A new internet platform will soon provide information on the initiative and open up even more ways for the public to get involved - including the opportunity for citizens to join the online debate in the dedicated online forum, which also makes it possible for them to vote on the proposals being made, and the opportunity to chat with experts. This online tool will ensure that the initiative covers the whole of Germany - even areas where there is no citizens' bureau.

Who will be involved in the process of grid development planning?

Both the transmission system operators and the Federal Network Agency are to hold large-scale consultations as they draw up the grid development plan. It is already possible to participate in these consultations online.

The transmission system operators and the Federal Network Agency have each set up websites providing detailed information on all issues of grid development: please go to www.netzentwicklungsplan.de and www.netzausbau.de.

Information on upcoming grid expansion projects is made available online by the Federal Network Agency. The website www.netzausbau.de, for instance, provides up-to-date information on the state of the grid projects being undertaken as set out in the Federal Requirements Plan Act. It also has an interactive map of Germany showing the current state-of-play regarding the planning and the construction of grids under the 2009 Power Grid Expansion Act.

It is possible for everyone to voice their particular concerns at a very early stage, so that this input can be fed into the planning process.

Beyond what is stipulated by law, the system operators and the Federal Network Agency have been holding numerous events at local level to ensure that there is close dialogue with local residents affected by the grid projects.

Following an initial public consultation that was open from April to May 2014, the four TSOs revised the first drafts for the 2014 grid development plan for electricity and the 2014 offshore grid development plan. The second drafts that resulted from this review were then submitted on 4 November 2014. As these new drafts have been changed quite considerably compared to the initial versions, the Federal Network Agency is not expecting their assessment to be completed before spring 2015.

The federal planning procedure, which must be followed throughout the process of designating the exact corridors along which our electricity highways are to be built, always opens with a conference whose purpose is to specify the exact subject of investigation. The public are called upon to get involved in this process and to suggest possible routes.

The first public conference of this kind took place in Torgelow, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, on 24 September 2014. The authorities, municipalities, associations, and the public were invited to get involved in identifying a suitable corridor, which was to be 500 to 1,000 meters wide (Project No. 11 in the 2013 Federal Requirements Act).

In order to ensure that the requirements for the infrastructure project in question are defined at an early stage in the procedure and in a spirit of dialogue, information on environmental compatibility and any relevant information on land use regarding the corridors suggested is collected and discussed, as are proposals for alternatives. This also seeks to determine which additional documentation must be submitted to the Federal Network Agency for assessment. The documents in question are then published.

Furthermore, the procedure requires that an event be held that allows for any objections submitted to be discussed with those who submitted them. The planning-approval procedure that follows also provides for a similar public conference and event for discussions to be held.

Participation at EU level

"Project of common interest" (PCI) is the designation used by EU member states to denote energy infrastructure projects that are designed to close gaps in the European energy infrastructure and to help with the roll-out of renewables. These projects must also be truly European in the sense that they ought to have a positive impact on the economic, social, and/or environmental situation in at least two member states and their energy sectors. The first pan-EU list of "projects of common interest" was published in October 2013.

As part of the process of updating this list, the European Commission recently conducted a pan-EU consultation on potential "projects of common interest" in the field of electricity and gas infrastructure. The consultation was mainly aimed at authorities, companies, business associations, unions, consumer protection and environmental associations, and other interest groups. The consultation closed on 13 March 2015.