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Durham Energy Institute

DEI Briefing note - Sustainable Electricity Grid Development: Whose Power?

Download the 'Whose Power?' briefing.

This DEI briefing is based on new research by Professor Tooraj Jamasb and Wenche Tobiasson into public engagement in the development of transmission networks. The research explores two high profile cases of community opposition to new transmission lines in Scotland (the Beauly-Denny line) and Norway (Hardanger Power Line).

When electricity grids are extended or upgraded, a major challenge is how to address the concerns of local communities with the adverse environmental impacts of the projects. While the impacts are local, the benefits of the projects accrue to the country as a whole.

Communities affected by new power lines have not traditionally been compensated although this is an approach often used with onshore wind farms and now with Shale Gas extraction in the UK. However, the pressure to compensate communities is likely to increase as essential work gets underway to upgrade and expand the UK grid network to integrate the new renewable generation facilities which are planned.

Key findings:

  • The traditional focus on compensating communities through financial benefits is not the most comprehensive approach.
  • A mismatch in the distribution of costs and benefits, together with an outdated planning and decision-making framework, give rise to conflicts between stakeholders.
  • A weak-strong sustainability approach would be more effective, enabling stakeholders to consider the redistribution of cost and benefits on a societal level. It allows a range of criteria to be assessed such as social sustainability, environmental sustainability and intergenerational equity and promotes good citizenship. It also offers a way-out of costly conflicts through a new organising principle and increased public engagement in design, decision making and implementation.
  • The need for a framework through which tensions can be resolved will become more pressing now that the electricity system needs substantial upgrading.
  • More research is needed into community compensation and how a good citizenship and environmental investment model could be developed.

The insights from the research will also have implications for many other contexts, such as the locations of wind farms, solar farms, shale gas wells, and waste, from energy production, including nuclear waste.