The purpose of the environmental impact assessment procedure is to reduce or entirely prevent large landscaping projects from harming the environment. Assessments often uncover matters that alter the location or route of a project – in Fingrid’s case, a transmission line.
Environmental impact assessments are usually carried out for 400-kilovolt transmission line projects.
The environmental impact assessment is a systematic process carried out by a multidisciplinary working group of experts in fields such as environmental, natural, scenic, and social impacts.
Nature inventories provide information about the habitats and species of animals and plants of interest in the project area.
“We typically encounter one of the directive species or its habitat when we conduct a nature inventory, so we have to think about alternative routes,” says Lauri Erävuori, a Senior Consultant at Sitowise, which is one of the consultancies that carry out environmental impact assessments.
Fingrid commissions environmental impact assessments for its transmission line projects, and the assessments and reporting are carried out by an external consultant to guarantee an independent evaluation.
The assessments and reporting are carried out by an external consultant to guarantee an independent evaluation.
Assessments are conducted by Finland’s largest multidisciplinary and environmental consultancies, among other entities.
Wind power, a shortage of workers, and winter backlogs
The entire environmental impact assessment sector is experiencing backlogs at the moment. This has been sparked by a boom in wind power all over Finland, with dozens of projects that are in the embryonic stage, undergoing planning, or already in progress.
The average environmental impact assessment takes over a year.
The average environmental impact assessment takes over a year, but it can take even longer. This is further held back by the fact that the nature inventories included in the environmental impact assessment require a substantial amount of work that cannot be done in the winter when Finland’s nature is covered by snow and ice.
However, the environmental impact assessment backlog has not delayed any of Fingrid’s projects. Good advance planning is the key to ensuring that the assessment is carried out on schedule.
“We have prepared main grid development and investment plans extending to 2030, so we will also be able to carry out the environmental impact assessments on time. Various projects may be prioritised if necessary, so some things can be postponed and others done right away,” says Mika Penttilä, Head of the Land Use and Environment Unit at Fingrid.
A shortage of experienced EIA practitioners is adding to the bottleneck because the process requires quite specialised expertise. New project managers and project secretaries are obtained through on-the-job learning.
The congestion is also putting pressure on the authorities. The Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment supervises environmental impact assessments.
“Other authorities may also experience a high demand for the services, so there can sometimes be a long wait for permits,” Penttilä notes.
Dialogue between all parties
Any person affected by a project may participate in the EIA, so information must be shared with all stakeholders, and everyone must have the opportunity to participate. Conversations continue throughout the EIA – the parties react to the results while the procedure is still ongoing, not after it. It is often possible to alter the planned transmission line route or examine alternative routes if there are serious grounds for this.
Fingrid´s project group acts as the face of the project towards stakeholders.
Fingrid’s project group participates actively in EIA procedures for transmission line projects and acts as the face of the project towards stakeholders. An independent consultant is responsible for assessing the impacts, but Fingrid’s experts participate in matters such as public events and negotiations with the authorities during the process.
“We are the contact party for the authorities and local businesses and residents in power line projects. We are responsible for ensuring that the EIA work is high in quality, and we discuss this with local residents. For example, we have just sent out 1,500 letters to landowners on various project themes,” Penttilä says.
Interaction is a key part of the procedure. Everyone can make their views known, although it is not always possible to take all of them into consideration. “Landowners may point out that natural assets are avoided but their land is not. We always debate these matters on a case-by-case basis, and it is part of the process,” Erävuori says.
Environmental impact assessment (EIA)
– The procedure seeks to reduce or prevent the harmful environmental impact of major projects.
– It is usually required for transmission line, motorway, mining, waste treatment, and wind power projects, for example.