Public dialogue; Source: BDS

© BDS

Establishing a new culture of dialogue – public dialogue on grids

German citizens are keen to be given more information about, and become more involved in, projects that directly affect their lives. The large-scale infrastructure projects that are needed to bring about the energy transition can be realized only if they are supported by the people and not rejected by them. This means that those planning and those affected by a particular project need to engage in close dialogue with one another to discuss the plans and the room for manoeuvre as these are being implemented. This requires establishing a new culture of dialogue that involves all stakeholders and takes account of the different concerns that people have.

This is why, since 2015, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has been supporting the initiative for a public dialogue on grids. This initiative seeks to provide opportunities for dialogue wherever it is needed most – i.e. the regions that are directly affected by the projects – focusing on communities where there is a particularly strong need for communication and discussion.

Now, half way into the project, the public dialogue on grids initiative has released a publication describing its work and the impressions it has gained from the regions, including public sentiment and people’s view of the projects there.

The citizens’ offices, which are located in the regions that are directly affected by grid expansion, have specialised staff who provide citizens with information on grid expansion. The citizens’ offices serve as points of contact for all issues surrounding grid expansion and provide services that are tailored to the needs of the individual regions. This is to ensure that the public’s need for information is met, even where grid-expansion projects require long planning periods whereby decisions are taken at various levels, and irrespective of the individual scope for decision-making. Citizens’ offices are currently available in Erfurt, Fulda, Hannover, Kassel, Krefeld, Magdeburg, Nuremberg, Quakenbrück, Regensburg, and Stade. In addition, there is a mobile citizens’ office that travels to regions where no permanent citizens’ office is based. This ‘dialoguemobile’ allows the public dialogue on grids initiative to reach out to citizens in everyday life – whether it is at farmer’s markets, town fairs, in front of libraries or town halls.

However, the citizens’ offices not only provide information, they are also there to listen to what those affected by grid expansion and interested members of the public have to say, feed back their input to decision-makers and answer citizens’ inquiries. This allows the citizens’ offices to harness the knowledge and expertise of the people living in regions affected by grid expansion – people that can make a valuable contribution to solving conflicts in these regions.

Various events are also being held, ranging from citizens’ conferences to information markets and discussion evenings where locals have the opportunity to get together in small groups. This will allow local residents 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 are also made available where needed to supplement this dialogue.

The public dialogue on grids initiative also provides its services online on www.buergerdialog-stromnetz.de. The website provides information on the initiative and opens 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. The questions raised by citizens and the answers given will be made available online as an FAQ for all interested users. By providing services online, the public dialogue on grids will ensure that the initiative covers the whole of Germany – even areas where there is no permanent citizens’ office. The public dialogue on grids initiative therefore supplements the opportunities for citizens to get involved provided by the Bundesnetzagentur and the TSOs.

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

The grid will be expanded in five steps, each of which offers opportunities for interested citizens to become involved. Firstly, grid expansion needs will be assessed using the scenario framworks, grid development plans and the Federal Requirements Plan. Secondly, the transmission routes will be defined for each project (as part of the federal sectoral planning, spatial planning and planning approval procedures).

Assessing and determining grid expansion needs

Every second year, the TSOs develop a grid development plan and an offshore grid development plan. This is being done based on the ‘scenario framework’, which helps answer the following questions: How much electricity will be consumed in Germany in the next few years? What role will conventional power plants and renewable energy sources play in future?

The grid development plans list all of the approved expansion projects. These plans are used as a basis for developing the Federal Requirements Plan, which determines which transmission grid expansion projects are needed in terms of energy supply and in order to ensure that the grid can be operated safely and reliably. The Federal Government must present a draft of this plan to the legislature at least every four years for its approval. The Federal Requirements Plan sets out the starting and finishing points of the necessary lines, but no specific information about the transmission route.

Throughout the expansion needs assessment procedure (this is when scenarios are being developed and the network development plan defined), members of the public can become involved, allowing every interested citizen to have their say. More information and a schedule showing citizens when they can become involved can be found on the website of the TSOs (in German) and the Bundesnetzagentur. A timetable listing events that will be held in the regions is also published online, allowing citizens to engage in dialogue with the TSOs and the Bundesnetzagentur.

Which issues are covered by and can be addressed during the expansion needs assessment procedure?

Scenario framework – input data for the market simulation:

  • Development of electricity consumption
  • Development of regenerative and conventional energy supply
  • CO2 emissions and climate change mitigation targets

Grid development plans and environmental report

  • Alternatives to the proposals presented by the TSOs, ensuring grid optimisation and a secure supply of electricity
  • Transmission requirements between the starting and finishing points (no specific route corridors or transmission routes)

Determining route corridors and transmission routes

The Federal Requirements Plan Act sets out the starting and finishing points of any new high-voltage electricity lines to be installed. This serves as the basis for the next step: determining the route corridors – a 1km-wide strip of land through which the lines will be routed. For transmission lines that span several German Länder and for cross-border transmission line projects, it is up to the Bundesnetzagentur to determine the corridors as part of the ‘federal sectoral planning’. TSOs need to submit an application, the preparation of which is accompanied by the holding of regular informal meetings that are open to the general public. Once the Bundesnetzagentur has received the TSO’s proposal, the formal approval procedure begins and an application conference is held (or several conferences in cases where a larger project has been proposed), providing citizens with an opportunity to become involved.

In order to assess the requirements associated with a particular project as early as possible, information on the environmental and spatial compatibility of the proposed route corridor and alternative routes are collected and discussed. In addition, a decision is taken about which additional documents the TSO should submit. These documents are published afterwards. There is also a mandatory hearing during each federal sectoral planning procedure where opinions are discussed together with those who object to a particular proposal.

Ultimately, it is up to the Bundesnetzagentur to select the route corridor, which will then be binding for the subsequent step, namely the planning approval procedure. Under the planning approval procedure, the specific transmission routes within a route corridor are determined. During this step, too, citizens have the opportunity to become involved, for example by taking part in the application conference and the hearing.

At the end of the procedure, the Bundesnetzagentur makes a planning approval decision, selecting the routing that is most compatible with people’s and environmental needs.

Which issues are covered and can be addressed?

Federal sectoral planning

  • Information on environmental and spatial compatibility of the route corridor proposed in the application and on potential alternative routes
  • Likely impact of the expansion project on people and the environment
  • Pointing out nature conservation areas or new housing developments that the TSO may not have included in its plans
  • Individual properties affected by the expansion project are not yet covered at this sta

Planning approval procedure

  • Questions/comments on specific projects: transmission routes, converging routes, design (overhead lines, underground cables), impact on nature and the landscape

Objections can only be made by individuals, public-interest bodies and associations affected by the expansion project.

  • Objections made by individual property owners if these are directly affected by a project
  • Objections on the height or design of any transmission towers or other installations

Bundenetzagentur and TSOs provide information on participation opportunities

Detailed information on grid expansion and grid development planning and on the status and progress of individual transmission line projects is made available by the TSOs at www.netzentwicklungsplan.de and by the Bundesnetzagentur at www.netzausbau.de. Each TSOs (50Hertz Transmission GmbH, Amprion GmbH, TenneT TSO GmbH, TransnetBW GmbH) also provides information about the expansion projects it manages on their individual website. The Bundesnetzagentur also submits a quarterly report on the progress of all projects set out in the Federal Requirements Plan Act and the Power Grid Expansion Act and and on the offshore transmission lines.

Participation at EU level

Energy infrastructure expansion projects that help bridge a gap in the European grid infrastructure and update the grid in a way that ensures that rising levels of electricity from renewable sources can be fed in, are defined by the EU Member States as ‘important projects of common European interest’. 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 second pan-EU list of ‘important projects of common European interest’ was published in November 2015. The list is updated every second year, when new projects are added and obsolete ones are removed. The list was last updated in 2017.

As part of the process of updating this list, the European Commission will conduct a pan-EU consultation on potential ‘projects of common interest’ in the field of electricity and gas infrastructure. The consultation is mainly aimed at authorities, companies, business associations, unions, consumer and environmental associations, and other interest groups.