On 8 May 2018, the European Commission published guidance on how energy infrastructure projects on land and at sea can operate in accordance with requirements of the EU Habitats and Birds Directives, (together the “Nature Directives”). The aim of the guidance, “Energy transmission infrastructure and EU nature policy” (the “Guidance”), is to improve the implementation of EU biodiversity legislation while ensuring a safe, sustainable and affordable energy supply across Europe.
The Guidance will be of use to any promoter of energy infrastructure projects, including pan-European electricity interconnectors as they become a greater part of the UK’s energy mix.
The Guidance provides guidance and best practices on the installation, operation and decommissioning of energy transmission infrastructure only. Such infrastructure include (i) gas and oil pipelines; (ii) high and medium voltage electricity transmission cables; and (iii) distribution facilities. The Guidance does not focus on energy production facilities such as oil platforms, hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, and power stations.
Designed principally for project developers, transmission systems operators and authorities responsible for the permitting of energy transmissions plans and projects, the Guidance should also be of interest to those involved in the planning, design, implementation or approval of energy infrastructure plans and policies.
The Guidance divides into the following eight chapters:
- Chapters 1 and 2 provide an overview of the EU policy context for energy infrastructure and the need for a modern, interconnected energy grid across Europe in line with the TEN-E Regulation;
- Chapter 3 provides a general overview of the different types of potential impact that energy transmission infrastructure might have on habitat types and species protected by the Nature Directives;
- Chapters 4 and 5 focus on the potential effects of electric grid infrastructure in particular, giving detailed technical recommendations for remedial and mitigation measures;
- Chapter 6 outlines the benefits of taking a more strategic and integrated approach to planning energy transmission infrastructure in a way that avoids or minimizes the conflict with EU nature legislation later on in the process. The chapter also focuses on how various impact assessments, including those required under the Habitats Directive, might be effectively streamlined for projects of common interest (“PCIs”), in particular in light of the shortened timelines for PCI permitting procedures under the TEN-E Regulation;
- Chapter 7 describes the permitting procedure under Article 6 of the Habitats Directive; and
- Chapter 8 analyses the implications of energy transmission infrastructure (such as interconnectors) on the marine environment. The chapter also includes suggestions on how the impact of marine infrastructure might be mitigated.
The Guidance emphasises the need to take into consideration, at an early stage, the ecological requirements of protected species and habitats and to include, wherever possible, measures to improve their conservation. Recommended best practice includes:
- ensuring any cables, pipelines, substations and generation equipment does not impact EU protected species and does not disturb hazardous substances or contaminated sediments;
- reducing disturbance to protected species by minimising the size of cable trench corridors, reducing the number of connections between different pieces of infrastructure and using installation methods which minimise disturbance to seabed habitats;
- avoiding disturbance of protected species that would significantly effect on breeding or migration seasons; and
- having contingency measures in place should pollution incidents occur.