Opportunities and restrictions for public participation in European transmission grid projects

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A legal report submitted to the BESTGRID Project

This report describes the planning and licensing process for extra high voltage transmission lines under EU and national law regulatory framework. It is shown that the TEN-E Regulation 347/2013 introduces binding priorities (PCI, Projects of Common Interest) into national planning processes, shifting participation requirements to the EU level. The comparison between the German and the UK system of planning and permitting displays the different approaches: while the regulatory system is much more refined in Germany, granting much access and public participation, the participatory approach in the UK is more open, and access to justice is easier.

Against this backdrop, the report addresses the difficult question of how results of public participation processes can best be incorporated in decision making to increase acceptance towards projects. The authors argue that while public participation as such will not lead to acceptance for projects per se, it is worth engaging the public at the early stages to shift participation away from perceived sheer information sharing. To reach this aim, it remains necessary to increase the public’s grasp on the need for new high voltage lines, as well as on the European-level PCI project selection process (more important in continental Europe than in the UK). Round tables and any other early participation tools should and can be used, even if legally, there is no scope for consensual or self-governed decision making. What is possible, however, is formalizing an agreement that has been taken between the stakeholders and the applicant in the context of the permit granting or corridor finding procedure in the formal permit /development consent. Taking account of agreements in the authority’s planning discretion does not endanger the legality of the decision. Such options may help increase acceptance more than a proliferation of further regulation of public participation options of which – at least in Germany – there are now many.

Roda Verheyen & Kate Harrison
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