Hintergrund  Societal dimension


Topic Overview LIBE - Lyon '15

14.10.15 von NINA - MARIA THOMIC (AT)

1. Key terms

Energy Infrastructure (Powergrids)– is defined as the large-scale enabling technologies to transport energy from the producer to the consumer, as well as to direct and manage the energy flow of power from one place to the other.

Transmission Sytem Operator (TSO) – is an entity entrusted with transporting energy in the form of natural gas or electrical power on a national or regional level, using fixed infrastructure such as transmission lines or windmills.

Not In My Backyard Response (NIMBY) – characterises local opposition in response to proposals for e.g. new energy grids built close to people’s homes, such as windmills, transmission lines or pumped hydro-storage. Also commonly refered to in the media as a "nimby".

Trans-European Energy Networks (TEN-E) – are programmes by the EU set up for the implementation of the European Single Market. The Trans-European Networks aim at "linking island, landlocked and peripheral regions with the central regions of the community".[1]

Pumped Hydro Storage (PHS) – is a technology that allows the storage of electricity by pumping water between two storage tanks or reservoirs at different elevations.

2. Relevance and explanation of the issue

“I'm proud to be a nimby. For the environment's sake, we all should be.“ Geoffrey Wheatcroft (British Journalist and Writer)

With its 2030 Energy Startegy, the European Union is taking measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to increase the usage of renewable energy sources and to implement new energy trading schemes. However, its ageing energy system will not be able to properly supply Europe with energy and additionally serve innovation to more sustainable sources. To upgrade Europe’s infrastructure, the Europan Comission has estimated an amount of around € 200 billion will have to be invested [2]. Private stakeholders in the European energy market will likely only provide half the costs of such projects, as not all of the projects are commercially viable.

Furthermore, energy suppliers and governments pushing the development of the system further face opposition from residents that are threatened by projects carried out in their proximity. Residents fear their living environment to be harmed by diminished viewsheds, noise, pollution, traffic or safety and ecosystem concerns. The reaction to technical installations like windfarms, transmission lines or pumped hydro-storages often results in a „not in my backyard response“. This phenomenon can be a threat to the realisation of energy network projects and have to be tackled by both Transmission System Operators (TSOs) and local governments. As stated in the Green Paper towards a secure, sustainable and competitive European Energy Network, “our energy networks are the arteries on which we all depend for the energy to fuel our homes, businesses and leisure [3]. Europe depends on a modern and high-performance energy system to meet its goals until 2030. This will nonetheless only be possible with thorough consideration of different views on this topic, as well cooperation of all stakeholders involved.

Read more:

Projects on Energy Infrastructure (European Commission)

„Not in my backyard response“ (Euractiv Article)

Public Participation and Transparency in Power Grid Planning – Recommendations from the Bestgrid

3. Key Questions

» What factors can cause opposition towards a modernisation of energy infrastructure in the first place?

» Which measures can be taken to increase public acceptance towards infrastructure developments in their proximity?

» How to decrease economic threats in areas with steady infrastructural development?

» Which opportunities are there to involve residents in local, national and European policy discussions? Additionally, what should be the citizen’s role with regards to these discussions?

4. Key Facts and Figures

» Following a survey from 2012, 40% of Europeans would definitely not accept new powerlines in their proximity without opposition, while only 10% would definitely accept this change without protest. [4]

» 2030 Strategy for Energy Targets:

- a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 40% compared to 1990;

- 27% consumption of renewable energies;

- 27% of energy savings compared to the usual amount of energy saved.

5. Key Actors

As mentioned above, residents can play an important role in shaping Europe’s energy infrastructure. Even though the public increasingly understands and accepts the need for modernisation of energy grids, some people fear change in their close environment. Residents may consider their life quality in danger, with e.g. windfarms harming the visual appearance of a certain region or noise changing their living conditions. Other factors may also be health or economic concerns, driven by a lack of information on the actual impact of new technologies. People in close proximity to new energy infrastructure react naturally, by raising points on the inequal distribution of infrastructural development projects thus trying to avoid being affected by such measures themselves. Furthermore, people often fear the construction of powerlines in their region even more, if the need for respective measures is not transparent for them. [5]

Other stakeholders, that mainly have had to face opposition, are the Transmission System Operators (TSOs). TSOs are to be defined as the companies that provide systems to transport energy all over Europe. They are usually independent from electricity generation and distribution companies (“upstream”/”downstream”) and mainly cope with safety and reliability issues occurring in course of energy transportation. These entities try to cope with different stakeholders’ needs, while at the same time making sure that they meet both international guidelines and consumers’ demands. Whereas negotiations on European powergrids have mainly been discussed between the executing stakeholders (TSOs and local governments), TSOs now try to get residents involved more and more.

In coordinating, as well as conducting negotiations, Non-Governmental-Organisations (NGOs) [6] can be advantageous. Local NGOs can play help providing residents with knowledge and negotiation expertise and balance economic interests from other stakeholders.

Furthermore, the basis for negotiations between abovementioned stakeholders is a legal framework, provided by national and international stakeholders. With the European Union only holding shared competences [7] in energy issues, close cooperation between European authorities and institutions, such as entso-e, national and local authorities is vital.

Read more:

European Grid Initiative – Report

6. Key Conflicts

First of all, energy consumers themselves have to face one of the main conflicts: On the one hand, the European public believes in the modernisation of energy infrastructure to be a necessary and meaningful step. However, residents naturally would like their local environment not to be affected by and involved in such developments. Why would only certain regions have to cope with noise or only their neighbourhood have to be modified visually? Protest is caused by an inequal and intransparent way of carrying out such projects.

Apart from the risks mentioned above already, local areas are being confronted with economic threats. Even though the energy market in Europe may be pushed by measures of modernisation, certain regions could suffer economically. Because of visual change and degradation of rural areas in particular, residents may leave the region and private stakeholders might be less likely to invest in economic development there. TSOs, as well as local governments need to modernise energy infrastructure, but do not want to damage local structures either.

Conflicts also arise in the economic benefit local electricity distribution enterprises take from the construction of energy grids. Although some grids might not be vital for the infrastructural development in one area, electricity distribution companies can have an influence on their construction. One way of solving conflicts in this field, are TSOs that usually are independent from utilities transporting energy to the end consumer. With a Europe-wide network of independent TSOs, economic interests of certain stakeholders can be balanced.

Read more:

Nymbyism on the example of Windfarms – The Guardian

Best Practices for Improving Public Acceptance of Energy Infrastructure – The Energy Institute at Johannes Kepler University, Linz

7. Measures Already in Place

A first step towards making the public part of policy discussions in the field of energy infrastructure was the Communications Toolkit published by the European Commission in August 2014. It aims at facilitating stakeholder dialogue necessary to implement European grid development projects thus ensuring the highest level of public acceptance. It includes various communication and negotiation tools for local authorities, NGOs, residents and companies.

In course of this communication toolkit the Renewable Grid Initiative set a great example of monitoring first projects in Germany, Belgium and the UK. Different working group meetings should ensure a boost of public acceptance towards all projects carried out. Residents had a say in the planning process of the projects and could, e.g. propose design drafts for windfarms, even though the points risen from their side have mainly been suggestive so far.

The implementation of a European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (entsoe), which aims at the integration of renewable energy sources and the completion of the internal energy market in- and outside the EU, provides a good framework for coordination of development in 34 European countries, to which all 28 European Member States are also party.

Best practice examples, such as mentioned in the Renewable Grid Initiative Report, show that efforts made in the field of energy infrastructure do show first results already. However, the exchange between TSOs, local authorities and residents is not yet ideal. Furthermore, the gap between general acceptance and residents’ opposition with new technologies has potential to close even more with the legal and structural frameworks given. With measures like the use of the Communications Toolkit by the European Commission and thourough discussion between all stakeholders involved, public acceptance can be increased.

Read more:

The Renewables Energy Grid Initiative – Official Website

The European Citizen’s Initiative (European Commission)

The European Citizen’s Initiative (Democracy International)

8. Abstract

The struggle between the general public opinion on renewable energy grids and all the “nimbies” facing changes in their close neighbourhoods stays present and ways of dealing with the problematics have slowly been implemented. The question of how public acceptance of renewable energy grids can be backed up with the necessary financial resources and factual knowledge on threats residents may have, seeks for a compromise and the need for dialogue between all stakeholders involved. Europe’s ageing energy infrastructure has to be modernised soon, however, the Member States as well as the EU have to face and include different opinions and needs in the process.

9. Links for Further Research

Legal Framework

» Green Paper towards a secure, sustainable and competitive European Energy Network

» Regulation on guidelines for trans-European energy infrastructure

» Decision 1364/2006/EC on Trans-European Energy Networks

EU Sources

» Public acceptance of Wind Energy – The European Energy Association

» Study regarding grid infrastructure development: European strategy for raising public acceptance – Roland Berger

Opinion-based articles

» People prefer living near wind turbines to fracking wells – The Guardian

Further scientific books & reports

» BESTGRID – Results and Lessons learned

» Renewable Energy and the Public – Patrick Devine-Wright

» INSPIRE-Grid – Information on how to “inspire” people


[1] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV:l27066

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/infrastructure

[3] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV:en0004

[4] http://portal.tugraz.at/portal/page/portal/Files/i4340/eninnov2014/files/lf/LF_Cohen.pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/publications/lifepublications/ngos/documents/ngo_compi15.pdf

[7] http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/competences/faq#q1