Social acceptance of energy projects and the Aarhus Convention
24 February 2015
Author: PJ Rudden, chartered engineer FIEI FIGEM FICE FCIWM
Modern infrastructural development needs public support and input to be successfully delivered. Over the past ten years in Ireland, there has been increasing public and therefore media interest in the development of gas terminals and pipelines, energy projects generally, waste-to-energy and windfarms (especially onshore).
In social acceptance terms, there are three distinct phases of the decision-making processes on projects which people may question – the overall policy driving the project, the implementation method and the local siting or routing. These three questions of the ‘what, how and where’ evoke different degrees of opposition. Many people only have a problem with the eventual siting, meaning this can be an easier issue to resolve. But if people are questioning the overall policy, then more fundamental issues are at play.
I have been involved in stakeholder engagement processes on sensitive infrastructural projects for over 20 years. Objectors may not wish to live beside a facility or a pipeline that may have safety implications or, more likely, perceptions of risk such that it impacts on their quality of life or perceived devaluation of their property. Around these scenarios are also framed issues of sustainability in terms of process or energy mix that question the overall policy regarding fossils, renewables and nuclear.
If an energy project – say, an oil or gas terminal – is proposed, then why not a low-carbon fuel (like biomass) or renewable energy project instead? Even the race for low-carbon energy is now compromised by the growing opposition to onshore wind-energy projects, especially as they grow in scale and intensity. There is even opposition on visual grounds to overhead electricity transmission pylons needed to reinforce the grid as it takes on a higher proportion of renewables.
In nearly all cases, it is now much more complex than a simple ‘not in my backyard’ reaction. These days there is usually a policy driver of some kind behind the opposition in terms of energy or waste management.
Three examples from my own career are the Corrib onshore gas pipeline in Co Mayo off Ireland’s Atlantic west coast, the Dublin Waste to Energy project at Poolbeg and the Bord Gáis gas pipeline to the west. All three were planned around the same time, but exhibit comparisons and contrasts in their implementation.
Corrib onshore gas pipeline
Corrib, the second gas field in Ireland’s history, contains an estimated trillion cubic feet of gas. It was discovered in 1996 off the west coast by Enterprise Oil and declared commercial in 1998, so the statutory processes commenced. Due to the aggressive nature and depth of Atlantic Ocean at the well head, some 83km off the Irish Coast, it was decided to construct an offshore pipeline and umbilical connecting an onshore pipeline 9km in length to an inland gas terminal.
It was also the first ‘upstream onshore pipeline’ in Ireland carrying wet gas and was being designed and built to different standards than previous downstream transmission pipelines. The pipelines were all consented in 2002, though there was growing opposition to an onshore terminal instead of processing the gas at sea.
The project was initiated by Enterprise Oil, which clearly misunderstood the need for proper stakeholder engagement in the local area. This soured relations with local residents – relations that Shell inherited when it purchased Enterprise Oil in 2002. Shell initially failed to understand this sentiment, too.
In 2004, planning consent for the onshore gas terminal was granted. When work commenced on the onshore pipeline in 2005, it encountered strong local opposition due to perceived high pressure wet gas pipeline safety risks, resulting in a court injunction and the committal of five local residents to jail, dubbed the ‘Rossport Five’. A mediation process commenced, the injunction lifted and the Rossport Five were finally released after 94 days.
At this point, RPS was procured as new consultants by Shell to examine whether a revised onshore pipeline route could be found further away from local housing, as recommended in the mediator’s report and in close consultation with the local community. A robust local stakeholder-engagement process was put in place; we examined all possible routing options and eventually an acceptable revised route at reduced pressure of 85 bar was found in planning consent terms. However, the route ran through the middle of a local bay, which was a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive. This necessitated a 4.9km tunnel under most of Sruwaddacon Bay, which has now been completed and first gas expected in mid 2015.
The Corrib Field, when fully operational later this year, will supply approximately 60% of Ireland’s gas need for 20 years while currently, some 95% of Ireland’s needs are being imported from the UK system through the two Ireland-Scotland interconnectors.
There were unique historical aspects to the Corrib project that gave rise to the difficulties and delays encountered. This was the first gas pipeline in Irish history to encounter such problems, as it was the first upstream gas pipeline carrying wet gas and was perceived to operate at much higher pressures than traditional transmission pipelines (70 to 85 bar).
Dublin Waste to Energy project
Over the period 2001-’07, the Dublin Waste to Energy project, which was part of a newly adopted integrated waste plan for Dublin City Council on behalf of the four Dublin local authorities, was successfully brought by RPS through site selection, planning and Environmental Protection Agency licence. This was following a highly proactive and innovative stakeholder engagement process resulting in little public objection. The project unfortunately then became the focus of some local political opposition resulting in severe delays (2007-’11).
When these were successfully overcome, the project was delayed further by commercial complaints from waste contractors to the EU Commission on State Aid and Procurement grounds. Nevertheless, these complaints were eventually rejected by the EU and the project was approved by the four Dublin local authority CEOs in September 2014.
Construction commenced in autumn 2014 and the plant will be commissioned in 2017. This will finally complete implementation of the Dublin Regional Waste Management Plan first adopted in 2001 and will entirely remove the need for further landfill of waste in the Dublin Region to be replaced by maximum realistic recycling and energy recovery/district heating. This will be a very successful ‘circular economy’ project in EU Waste Management Policy terms and assist Green City status for Dublin going forward.
In 2002-’03, RPS led a consultancy team for Bord Gáis that routed and supervised the construction of the gas pipeline to the west some 330km of 750mm, 85bar pipeline from Gormanston on the east coast to Galway on the west coast to the Limerick/Cork border via Foynes on the Shannon Estuary. This pipeline routed and planned in 1999-’00 was consented in 2001 and constructed in 2002-’03, passing through seven counties and 1,300 landowners, yet experienced few difficulties. There were many physical constraints in terms of some 500 road, rail, river and canal crossings, together with some 50km of bog and many areas of ecological and archaeological significance.
While the summer of 2002 was very wet, particularly in the west of Ireland, the project was constructed on time and within budget by three different consortia of international contractors. This necessitated the importation of large quantities of bog mats and sheet piles to make the working spread independent of weather as a risk-management exercise. It was also critical that the project had no landowner or objector delays.
These had been successfully prevented by a very robust planning and proactive stakeholder and landowner engagement process from the start. It was, however, one of many downstream gas pipelines constructed and operated safely by Bord Gáis since the 1970s and that track record also stood the project in good stead with the national farming bodies. The gas pipeline to the west won the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland’s Best Civil Engineering Project of the Year in 2003.
Lessons in social acceptance
What have we learned from these projects in terms of social acceptance? Firstly, there needs to be a national or regional imperative or ‘project need’ grounded in national and EU policy terms. Secondly, there needs to be a rational and transparent site selection process. Thirdly, there needs to be early, honest and respectful engagement with local residents and a structure for ongoing dialogue using local liaison.
The regulatory processes for stakeholder engagement have recently become more onorous since the advent of the Aarhus Convention on public participation under EU law. This law gives rights of information, rights of participation and judicial review to citizens on projects before they enter the statutory planning process.
The ‘road to Aarhus’, as we call it, is not easy, quick or inexpensive. If implemented properly, it will save overall project costs or may save the project from total failure. Gaining credibility and trust is an essential first step. People can strengthen projects and help to make them a reality if there is a meaningful engagement from the start.
This article by PJ Rudden, chartered engineer FIEI FIGEM FICE FCIWM, was first published in the February 2015 edition of ‘Gas International’ and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2015/02/24/social-acceptance-energy-projects-aarhus-convention/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/environment-1024x860.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/environment-300x300.jpgElecCorrib,energy,renewables,RPS Group,waste