The INSPIRE-Grid 2015 Workshop.
Plotting a path to efficient Grid development We all rely on the electrical power system in our daily lives, but work to develop and enhance the underlying infrastructure often arouses strong opposition in the communities affected. We spoke to Stefano Maran about the INSPIRE-Grid project’s work in developing a methodology for effective participation, which could help strengthen trust between stakeholders and system operators The electrical grid system plays a central role in our everyday lives, providing power to homes and businesses, yet development projects often arouse intense opposition among the public. Deeper engagement with the public could help both smooth relations between citizens and electricity companies and accelerate development, a topic that lies at the core of the INSPIRE-Grid project. “The goal of the project is to make specific recommendations for the use of participation tools and processes in grid development projects,” says project coordinator Stefano Maran. The development of the grid has historically been centrally planned, yet this has often led to conflict with local citizens, concerned about issues such as the impact of a project on the landscape, or the possible health effects of a stronger electro-magnetic field. “One way of managing this type of conflict is to engage stakeholders as early as possible in the decision-making process,” outlines Maran.
Methodology A clear methodology which takes the interests of all stakeholders into account is essential to this process. The first step in the project is to assess the needs, wants and expectations of local stakeholders,
providing the foundation for the development of a methodology to manage a project consultation. “We will make some instruments available by which the interests of these different stakeholders can be expressed and taken into consideration,” explains Maran. Another key step in the project was to identify the processes available to engage stakeholders.
“We reviewed existing best practice, and we also made a decision tool available, in order to identify the most appropriate process, depending on the phase of the project, and the category of stakeholder,” continues Maran. “Then there is a need for assessment procedures, where we compare the benefits of projects to the local impacts. We aim to develop an assessment approach which allows decision-makers to take into account different points of view.”
The goal of improving energy infrastructure may be in the wider national interest, but decision-makers must also take the impact of a development project on local communities into account. While the majority of local stakeholders are unlikely to be experts on the technical aspects of grid infrastructure, their views can guide development. “We cannot ask the general public to decide the technical characteristics of the grid of course, but we can directly use the results of consultations for some project phases. We have differentiated these phases, and we have made some tools available that promote active participation,” says Maran. This could mean local stakeholders giving their views on the route of grid development for example, helping to protect the landscape and local heritage. “We have developed some tools that can enable this kind of function in an automatic way. But of course our tools do not in themselves resolve differences of opinion,” says Maran. There may be situations in which the outcome of a consultation does not directly influence the course and general direction of a development project. While the project’s tools may not in themselves help resolve these differences of opinion,