Rapid grid conversion and upgrading is essential to the transformation of our energy supplies, and creating a future energy scenario where energy is supplied to a great extent from renewable energy sources. Success depends upon careful consideration during planning of possible route alternatives as well as possible negative impacts on the environment and residents living nearby.

Early involvement of members of the public and a transparent planning process are vital to ensure understanding and acceptance of the necessity to upgrade the electricity supply.

Approval procedures for high voltage power lines

Overhead lines over a rapesead field. Photo: Dirk Roettgen,

In Germany, applications for new high and extra high voltage power lines must be made by the network operator. Approval procedures are mostly conducted in two stages. Firstly, in most cases, a regional planning procedure to determine the exact route.

At the second stage, nature protection organisations and members of the public who feel they will be affected each have the opportunity to raise their objections. The approving authorities must then debate these issues and carefully weigh them up against the planning interests of the network operator.

At the end of this process, the authorities will make an official planning approval decision. Anyone who has up until then put forward objections can now take their case to an administrative tribunal.

New Grid extension acceleration act?

In Germany, many members of the public are critical of this procedure and believe that they have too little opportunity to participate properly in decision-making. Critics say that planning is not sufficiently transparent, and those affected by changes only get a chance to participate at a late stage - and therefore have very little chance of influencing the choice of route or the technologies involved.

Planning procedures at this stage are frequently very lengthy and, for various reasons, can take up to 15 years to conclude. As a result, Germany is set to reform its planning law for network expansion, and in 2011 a network expansion acceleration law might be adopted.

German Law for partial underground cabling projects 380kV

In Germany, the Power Grid Extension Act 2009 (ENLAG) opened up the way to testing partial underground cabling using 380 kV along four pilot project routes. The network operator can allocate the extra costs incurred to network charges and thereby pass these on to all customers.