‘Protecting Nature in Power Grid Planning’ is a handbook for anyone who would like to help ensure transmission grid development contributes to protecting wildlife and nature, and to sustainable development of our energy systems. It shows how grid development and nature protection interests can work together to achieve common goals for society. It builds on lessons from the BESTGRID project to suggest ways that nature conservation interests and environmental NGOs of all kinds can get involved. By engaging early, and working together with governments and industry on solutions, nature conservationists and supporters can help enable grid development to become really sustainable - from the highest levels of policy down to decisions on details such as the design and location of ‘diverters’ that help birds avoid collision with power lines.
The handbook challenges developers and authorities as much as nature conservation NGOs and supporters, and makes recommendations for all concerned. It clearly sets out why grid development is a nature conservation issue (think climate change mitigation, collision risks for birds and changes to wildlife habitats) and why nature conservation is already an important consideration in grid planning. It explains how carbon emissions and impacts on nature are factored into decision making, and how stakeholders and the public can help ensure these considerations are given the full weight they need in the energy transition.
Overhead and underground power lines can both result in changes to wildlife habitats. The handbook compares the impacts, and recommends that undergrounding has a role to play but that its impacts on nature can be significant and costs much greater depending on the location. The handbook also goes into detail about opportunities for ecological enhancement in power line corridors, especially in forested regions. Rather than ‘mulching’ all the vegetation under existing power lines every few years, small trees can be planted and grazing animals can be used.
When planning new power lines in forested areas with low biodiversity value, there may be opportunities to use routing to create more habitat diversity and to improve ecological connectivity between more wildlife-rich areas. The handbook provides case studies of projects that are promoting these approaches. Another section discussed bird protection in detail, in particular the ways in which ‘strategic’ and project-level mapping and environmental assessments can be used to avoid creating collision risks for vulnerable species.
Grid operators and conservation stakeholders, such as environmental NGOs and authorities, face great challenges in getting the interests of nature protection heard early enough, before commitments are difficult to reverse. The approach taken in BESTGRID provides one solution, where NGOs have been invited to help develop project plans that would do more to engage with environmental stakeholders, to avoid impacts or to identify opportunities for nature. This is one part of the solution. We also need better awareness, and implementation, of nature protection legislation, and for its objectives to be embedded across energy policy and planning at European, national and regional levels. Engagement by stakeholders and the public at earlier planning stages is a key part of the solution. ‘Protecting Nature in Power Grid Planning’ shows how this can be achieved.