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Policy Brief / Electricity

Enhancing the public acceptance of crossborder electricity interconnection projects : a crucial step in the EU energy transition process

Author(s): SIKOW-MAGNY Catharina, VASILAKOS Nikolaos

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ABSTRACT

While electricity interconnectors bring concrete and measurable benefits to the European economy and citizens, there is, nevertheless, a number of key prerequisites that must be fulfilled, in order for these interconnectors to unfold their full socioeconomic potential, namely: i) establishing a well-functioning EU energy market (“software”), ii) involving the public constructively and effectively, iii) meeting the financing challenge of cross-border investments, and iv) accounting for the specificities of national energy policies, mixes and profiles. Public involvement and acceptance is one of the most crucial and challenging factors that may strongly influence the design, the realisation rate, but also the final outcome of an electricity infrastructure project. Many such projects have had to find solutions to public acceptance issues, typically because of perceived risks to health (despite converging scientific evidence to the contrary), the visual impact of the infrastructure in the landscape and/or the impact on the natural environment. As a result, such public concern has often led to significant procedural and time delays, or redesign of some projects, such as for instance change from overhead technology to technologically more challenging and considerably more expensive (3-8 times higher cost for the same capacity) undergrounding, in the middle of the process. The present paper explores the important issues associated with the involvement of the public (citizens, civil society groups and relevant stakeholder groups), potentially affected by the development of new interconnectors, in their design, permitting and realisation process. The paper identifies a number of distinguishing features, weaknesses and obstacles that can strongly influence public attitudes towards new interconnector development, and probes relevant questions, such as: Are the practices applied to ensure public acceptance fit for purpose? Where is the space for improvement? Are some pro- jects affected more by the lack of public acceptance than others, and how can this be balanced? Finally, the paper proposes specific measures, actions and initiatives that can significantly raise public awareness, promote constructive involvement and enhance acceptance of important cross-border electricity infrastructure by the public.