Sustainability Report 2017

Nature Conservation

We take the greatest possible care regarding nature, the environment and living space for people in our grid area. We follow this principle in all of our reconstruction and expansion measures for our transmission grid and in our substation projects. In project planning, during the approval process we responsibly balance technical requirements, the interests of the people affected by our projects and protection of flora and fauna.

So before such approval procedures, we conduct environmental impact assessments and local investigations to determine the current situation and identify the most compatible line corridor possible. Then, we map the exact course of route in this locality and determine what protective measures we need to pay attention to. These investigations are carried out in cooperation with external environmental planners, line mapping experts and other specialists from the fields of science and nature conservation. Only then do we start our construction projects which are also monitored by external environmental specialists. Even construction site installations and the construction process are implemented so temporary adverse effects on nature are minimised, deadlines of relevance to nature conservation are complied with and requirements are taken into account at an early stage. The companies conducting the work on behalf of 50Hertz are obligated to comply with the environmental aspects of their activities.

Essential components of ecological monitoring of construction

  • Monitoring compliance with protection, prevention and minimisation measures of the landscape conservation plan and fulfilment of requirements and conditions in the planning approval decision
  • Advice on selecting the construction site and the building material storage
  • Acceptance of all areas taken up after recultivation and renaturation including photographic documentation
  • Written documentation of the protection and minimisation measures to be submitted to the nature conservation authorities
  • Drafting of a landscape care monitoring programme for non-balanced, unavoidable adverse effects during construction
  • Participation in construction consultations

Compensation measures

630

compensation measures were being
planned, realized and financed within
50Hertz-control area in 2017.

Using appropriate measures, 50Hertz compensates for unavoidable adverse effects on nature, the environment or habitats. We strive to achieve compensation measures with the greatest overall social benefits. We divide these into six categories: Planting measures, forestry measures, hydraulic engineering measures, species protection, renaturation measures and others. We involve the affected municipalities, conservation authorities, interested citizens and non-governmental organisations in the planning and implementation of compensation measures very early on, because they know the specifics of the nature and habitats in their localities best. In partnership with each other, we develop suitable projects and propose these in the course of approval planning. In 2017, we adopted a policy for targeted compensation management. In this, we define fields of action required for the successful approval and implementation of the measures. An internal evaluation commission, which decides on the measures, meets every two months. The selected measures are recorded in a real estate cadastre. Currently, 440 compensation measures are in planning in the 50Hertz grid area as well as 190 that are being implemented or maintained.

One of the largest single measures to compensate for the construction of the Southwest Interconnector through the Thuringian Forest was the demolition of an eight-storey prefabricated building in Frauenwald (Ilmkreis) in 2017. The outer walls of the former army residence should be demolished in spring 2018. By then, the interior of the building should have been cleared and the materials disposed of.

In addition, 50Hertz strives for forward-looking, minimally-invasive and ecologically sustainable line and route planning and management for more biodiversity in forest clearings, as well as for better bird and amphibian conservation. Together with our partners, we examine potential risks to the animal world from power lines and derive appropriate recommendations for action.

What are compensation measures?

The Federal Nature Conservation Act (Bundesnaturschutzgesetz, BNatSchG) regulates the interests of nature conservation in Germany. Appropriate compensation measures are also provided for in terms of adverse effects on nature (impact regulation) in regard to infrastructure measures such as line construction. According to BNatSchG, the polluter is obliged to refrain from preventable adverse effects on nature and the landscape or to keep these as low as possible (prevention and minimise obligation). Unpreventable adverse effects are to be compensated for through appropriate measures.

In the past, we at 50Hertz have always focused on the implementation of our own compensation measures, for example in the form of replacement planting. In addition to this, investments in projects by other organisations and compensation payments are possible. For reasons of efficiency we want to avail of these options more than previously in the future.

Examples for compensation measures.

Bird Protection

For example, in Ilmkreis in Thuringia, we converted four disused transformer stations to species protection towers as a compensation measure. The towers with nesting boxes and entry holes in Dörnfeld, Espenfeld and at the Thomasmühle near Frauenwald now offer birds, hedgehogs, forest bees and bats a suitable habitat. The Ilmenau branch of the Nature Protection Association (NABU) is to equip these four towers with display boards and care for and maintain them.

The “Storchenpflegehof Papendorf ” in the district of Western Pomerania-Greifswald cares for injured animals southwest of Pasewalk, including many birds of prey. We supported the club in constructing a free-flight aviary for the white-tailed eagle. We also have brought the Brandenburg Aquila e. V. association and Storchenpflegehof Papendorf e. V. together, so that they can engage in a technical exchange on caring for birds of prey and aviary building.

High voltage lines have adverse effects on the world of birds. Therefore, 50Hertz minimises negative impacts on the protection of birds when expanding lines. Since 2017, we use a new species-specific method for these projects to systematically determine the impact on species populations. With this we can identify targeted preventive and compensation measures. In 2018, we will install bird protection markers along 30 kilometres of the existing grid. As older lines in the existing grid often require structural changes to the mast construction, we have already begun appropriate, preparatory work. Being a member of the “Renewables Grid Initiative” 50Hertz actively supported Naturschutz Deutschland e. V. (NABU, Germany’s largest nature conservation organisation) in setting up the “Vogelfund und Stromleitung” hotline (bird finds and power lines hotline) in 2017. In a comparative study, the efficacy of spiral and flap markers was studied. They should help birds to identify a line in flight and avoid it. Bird protection cameras between power masts in a bird sanctuary will also observe the behaviour of animals. With these measures and projects, we are increasing the protection of birds along our lines.

Image: Rings for peregrine falcon chicks. The protected birds of prey have nested on a 50Hertz overhead line mast.

In the planning, construction and operation of lines, 50Hertz initiates and shapes the dialogue with the public, specialist experts, associations, environmental organisations and with local environmental and nature conservation authorities. In joint consultations, discussions, workshops and dialogue rounds, information is exchanged and the potential line corridors are discussed, in order to protect the landscape and nature as much as possible. Wherever it makes sense, lines are bundled with existing overhead lines and other infrastructure such as rail lines and highways. In order to avoid unnecessary adverse effects on the landscape, we adapt the routes to the conditions of the landscape.

Ecological aisle management

In order to build an overhead line in forest areas, forest aisles are usually laid. The conductor lines need enough free space on either side and to the ground to provide the necessary safety clearances. Therefore, recurring sections and trees have to be removed along the aisle. But trees and shrubs provide habitats for many animals and plants. Because of this, we try to have as little negative impact on these natural habitats and biodiversity as possible in the long term, thus increasing biological diversity below the lines.

In 2010, 50Hertz developed “Ecological Aisle Management” (EAM) in cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt. This allows forward-looking, impact minimising and ecologically sustainable route planning and management to be practised: The aisle under an overhead line in consideration of safe operation is designed in such a way that natural habitats become re-established there. Thus, during the course of the project, a biologically diverse and valuable aisle develops. 50Hertz bindingly applies EAM for new routes and also on a voluntary basis for existing routes. We have identified a total of 550 km of existing routes in our grid area that run through forest areas and are therefore suitable in principle for EAM. On the basis of flight data, a 17-kilometre line aisle was inspected by environmental planners in order to develop appropriate, area-specific ecological measures of care. After planning, all biotope care measures implemented along a route will be based on the principles of EAM. Thus, in comparison to the previous year, in 2017 the structure of forest edges was increased from 7.1 km to 10.7 km and the number of plantations increased from 20,700 to 25,700. In the case of new construction projects, EAM was first use for the Southwest Interconnector in construction phases 2 and 3. A total of 36.5 km of the new route were entirely implemented using EAM.

Water protection

The business activities of 50Hertz do not result in any significant water consumption. Our responsibility is less about reducing water consumption. Instead, during grid and substation projects, we want to pay particular attention to water retention in the soil as well as water and soil pollution due to hazardous substances. Thus, 50Hertz already installed special security systems into systems that contain oil. An intricate construction is used to protect the environment in transformers at substations, so that no oil gets into the soil. The systems are regularly checked by our maintenance personnel and, if necessary, restored or replaced. Waste water may only be discharged with an official permit, and has been checked regularly for harmful substances.

In order to protect water, we carefully observe the Water Management Act and the state-specific system ordinances. Employees are trained on the environment-friendly operation of the systems. Water protection officers receive targeted further training. In the grid area, the requirements of the Water Management Act and the Ordinance on Installations for the Handling of Substances Hazardous to Water are particularly relevant on the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania coasts and thus for our offshore grid connections.