In the construction of the new lines, through a design process focused on environmental and landscape aspects, Terna aims at limiting the impact on the land by reconciling the country’s electric needs with the protection of the environment. In compliance with the requirements expressed during the authorization procedure, Terna adopts mitigation measures to reduce the impact, and/or improve the environmental sustainability integration of the electrical structures.
Terna has responsibility for supplying the entire country electricity needs and our plants are widespread on the entire Italian territory.
The relation of the grid with the surrounding environment and its impacts on biodiversity assume different characterizations during the initial construction phase and the following operational one. In particular, the construction stage impacts on biodiversity due to the activities in the construction site: the opening of passages to erect the pylons, soil excavation, removal of residual materials - this requires particular attention when the intervention is localized in proximity or within protected areas.
Once the line has been built a dual relation with the surrounding biodiversity can be observed. On the one hand, the layout of the new line becomes a source of growth for biodiversity and results in “protection zone” for some species. For instance, when lines cross large and open areas or vast areas characterized by single crop cultivation, pylons and their basis result in being a sort of “island” where biodiversity is concentrated, since in their proximity no intensive agricultural practice is exercised and soil is conserved in its natural, initial state. These become the zones where spontaneous grasses and brambles bloom and where rodents find a refuge. It is also frequent to see birds and birds of prey employing the lines/pylons as observation points and as support structure for nesting.
On the other hand, the presence of the grid can cause potential negative impacts on biodiversity and in particular on birds with the main risk of collision.
Aware of the potential direct and indirect impacts resulting from our construction and management activities both on the environment, biodiversity and the ecosystem services supplied, Terna decided to adopt a precautionary approach and a business model that, starting from the very beginning (design and planning), enable the full respect of the environment.
The first concrete application of the model is observable in 2005 when, despite the SEA Directive had not yet been implemented by the Italian regulations,Terna had already taken several steps ahead for a voluntary and experimental application.
Finding inspiration in its founding principles (sustainability, transparency, consideration of the environmental aspects starting from the planning phase) Terna defined its own model based on a preliminary assessment of the location of interventions before the start of the authorization process by the public authority. This virtuous process was, at the time, a new and innovative solution.
Specifically, Terna had to define where the new 50 km of high-voltage electricity transmission grid (380 kV) - connecting the new power substations located in Chignolo Po and in Maleo (Lombardy) - would have cross the southern part of the Lombardy region. The major factors to take into consideration were: the high level of urbanization of the area, the presence of the Po river, the proximity of the MonticchieSites of Community Importance and of the AddaSud Park, characterized by a high naturalistic and landscape value.
Terna faced this issue driven by the desire to promote a new culture and a new social and environmental awareness within the company (still very young in those years), to identify with and be proud of, that could also have positive economic impact in terms of social license and reduction of business risks.
With a strong and direct involvement of the electricity planning and the environmental activities functions and with the support of the communication functions, Terna started a consultation process implementing a constant dialogue with interested local institutions, park authorities, farmers’ associations, conservationists, trying to find shared sustainable localization hypothesis for the above mentioned grid development plan.
The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) has been the main coordination tool employed to integrate environmental concerns into the planning process following the six procedure phases: preliminary approach/screening, processing, consultation, assessment, approval, monitoring.
The entire process of “shared landscape planning” took three years. Firstly an environmental impact study was conducted to define a study area - meant as the environmental area, conveniently dimensioned, where Terna focused its environmental detailed analysis and identified the possible corridors and subsequently the track; seventy meetings with the interested local institutions were held (Lodi, Ente Parco AddaSud and all the other interested municipalities), the GIS methodology (considering area of hydrogeological instability, agricultural zone, residential expansion/urban green spaces, etc.) and the so called ERA criteria (see the image on the side) were applied to come to a final and agreed solution.
The results of the consultation process have then been included in the SEA monitoring of the Plan implementation.
In addition, Terna planned to use low-environmental impact pylons (single-stem pylons), reducing up to 50 times the ground surface occupied, and started a consistent program of rationalization aiming to dismantle the existing obsolete electric grid in the area.
The overall action led, on one hand, to minus 64 km of obsolete electric grids and minus 225 obsolete pylons, on the other, to plus 24 km of new and efficient electric grids with a “positive balance” of minus 40 km of potential soil occupation.
The final shared solution, and the process as a whole, allowed the achievement of significant and observable environmental advantages on the territories of reference:
- minimization of impacts on Natural Reserves Areas: crossing of the river Adda and Po and passage within the MonticchieSites of Community Importance and other Natural Reserved Areas avoided and 4.7 km of electric grid in the AddaSud Park reduced;
- adoption of mitigation measures aiming to reduce the visibility and/or improve the integration of the electric station in the AddaSud Park with important positive impacts on the local biodiversity. In particular Terna built masking systems as fences and used naturalistic engineering techniques that enabled a significant increase in biodiversity in areas previously cultivated with single-crop solutions;
- significant reduction of potential and effective soil occupation: final balance equal to minus 40 km of electric grids.
Following this first positive experience, the definition of the construction site mitigation program became a standard procedure for Terna, with other 15 construction “green sites” built on the Italian territory.
Indeed, the success of the operation strengthen and gave credibility to the company’s vision anchored to economic, social and environmental sustainability; increased the internal level of consciousness related to the importance and the central role of biodiversity and ecosystem services for Terna core business and made relations with Institutions and their representatives more collaborative.
Moreover, it prepared the ground for subsequent important steps forward, such as:
- the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Terna and WWF in 2009, and renewed in 2013, aimed to increase and monitor the level of integration of environmental criteria within the electric grid development process, to harmonize it with the WWF’s strategy for habitats conservation and to share an action plan able to guarantee a grid development plan oriented to sustainability and to the mitigation of its impact in natural areas characterized by a high naturalistic and landscape value;
- the project launched with the IBPL to examine in depth the interaction between the high-voltage power lines and birdlife;
- the support of the initiative “nests on pylons”;
- the launch of the internal project, currently underway, with the aim of developing a measurement system able to evaluate and monitor Terna impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services.