We are creating a sustainable, reliable and affordable grid for the future by engaging in transparent, clear and constructive dialogue with our stakeholders. We demonstrate mutual respect and empathy to find the best solutions for society and the environment in areas affected by our infrastructure projects. Our relationships are based on trust and dialogue.
We are convinced that early involvement of stakeholders is vital for the success of the energy transition and of the important projects needed to make it happen. Already in the early concept stage, we are working closely with stakeholders such as local communities, associations, NGOs and various government organisations. We have set up several initiatives with governors and mayors whose intervention are valuable when it comes to bring all interested parties together.
We developed an integrated communication and public acceptance methodology, integrating stakeholder and communication actions in a systematic way in the grid development and engineering process in order not only to control the risk of stranded costs but also to be able to realize the best project taking into account the interests of society. During the project life-cycle, Elia makes its decisions relying on project maturity assessment based upon stakeholders’ opinions. Collaboration with stakeholders is fully integrated throughout the project, clear acceptance level being expected at each project gate. We furthermore developed a public reference framework to mitigate the impact of new infrastructure projects and to compensate for the remaining impact.
The Community Relations Department is responsible for the day-to-day management of community involvement activities. As illustration of Elia’s investment in community relations, the number of Community Relations Officers increased from 7,4 FTEs in 2014 to 13 FTEs in 2019.
The Chief Community Relations Officer is a member of Elia’s Executive Committee.
- in our 2018 Annual Report, pages 71-79
- in our 2018 Sustainability report, pages 32-33
Informing, listening and having a constructive dialogue with the residents impacted by its infrastructure projects is a priority for Elia. As such, the transmission system operator organises regular information sessions in partnership with affected municipalities, far beyond obligations resulting of permitting procedures. Elia proactively informs its stakeholders, as we trust that transparency is a guarantee of project quality. These sessions inform local residents about the impacts, objectives and challenges of upcoming works, as well as answering any questions they may have. Newsletters, websites and brochures are also used to ensure optimal communication throughout the works.
Elia is committed to maintaining good relations with its customers and its partners, the distribution system operators (DSOs). To this end, it adopts a number of approaches. Naturally, it has key account managers who deal with these parties directly on a day-to-day basis. In addition, events and meetings are organised to keep them informed and collaborate together on Elia's activities, the various products it offers and the future of the electricity system in Belgium.
Elia regularly organizes visits of its installations. In May 2018, Elia held an open day for the public at its brand new Stevin high-voltage substation in Zeebrugge. The visit was part of the Open Site Days, an initiative by the Belgian Construction Confederation which sees a number of projects opened to the general public. It was the first time Elia had taken part in the event. With over 2,000 people attending, the day was a great success. Since then, various initiatives have taken place with political stakeholders, associations and municipalities. Citizens have been invited to visit works of the convertor substation of the Alegro project, and of the towers of the Brabo project to cross the Schelde. This is definitely something we will continue invest in!
Most of Elia’s underground facilities run along public roads. However, for technical or other reasons our underground cables are sometimes installed cross-country. The pylons for overhead lines are often also located on farmland.
With the declaration of public utility provided by the authorities, Elia is legally entitled to install above-ground infrastructure on private land.
In this context, a good relationship with the relevant farmers is essential for the installation of new infrastructure and maintenance of existing infrastructure. Elia wants to operate as transparently as possible and has joined forces with Boerenbond, Algemeen Boerensyndicaat and Fédération Wallonne de l’Agriculture to develop a memorandum of understanding (in French) which includes the negotiating framework, compensation plan and standard agreements.
The agreement between Elia and the farmers’ organisations has two key components:
- The first part comprises the terms of agreement and compensation for owners and operators of farmland with respect to the permanent installation of high-voltage infrastructure. In such cases, the owner sells or leases an easement for the relevant surface area. The operator receives compensation for the presence of above-ground infrastructure. Standard agreements were also established (available in annexes 1, 2, 3 and 6).
- The second part is comprised of the agreements with regard to the farmers on the use of land and compensation for damage caused by the work on high-voltage facilities. A standard document for the site description and damage assessment, plus a list of compensation for crop and structural damage (listed in annexes 7, 8 and 9 of the memorandum of understanding).
Elia actively works to reduce the impact of its new high-voltage lines on the landscape. As part of the Stevin project, which involves upgrading the high-voltage grid between Zomergem and Zeebrugge, Elia has planted more than 1,800 trees and 11 km of hedgerow near the overhead line, in cooperation with the regional landscape associations. The new line and pylons will integrate into the local landscape when the plants have grown high enough.
Similar green integration efforts have been made at the new high-voltage substations of Stevin (Zeebrugge), Gezelle (Brugge Spie), Van Maerlant (Damme) and Horta (Zomergem) by planting large living fences outside the fences of these substations.
For most of its substation projects, Elia studies the various options to better integrate the infrastructure into its environment and limit constraints.
As a transmission system operator, Elia wants to play a role in society. We always prioritise community interests and sustainability.
In March 2017, Elia started a structural partnership with Be Planet. This partnership gives us the opportunity to meet our local partners so that we can take concrete action to reduce the impact of our activities on the environment, ensure biodiversity near our projects and increase public acceptance of our projects. Working with Be Planet enables us to forge close relations with local stakeholders during our grid development projects, ensuring dialogue and providing on-site ambassadors.
Every year, Elia supports a portfolio of projects connected with our activities.
Projects supported in 2017:
- Samenwerking voor Agrarisch Landschap: turning wood waste into energy
- Terre@Air: educating and informing young people about the environment and the energy transition
- Bûûmplanters: planting campaign to make Brussels greener
- SeaWatch-B: a network for observing the environmental situation of the North Sea
- La Ferme Maximiliens: a biodigestion system for bread waste that produces energy and organic fertiliser
- Jours sans viande: an awareness-raising campaign on the effect of our eating habits on the environment
Projects supported in 2018:
- Mosfabriek: plant facades made of living moss
- La rue des hérissons: protecting habitats and biodiversity
- Liège ville comestible en 4 ans: transforming urban spaces into edible spaces
- Vélo M2: pedalling to generate energy
Rising Youth, VDAB and IRIS Anticorrosion are helping young refugees aged 18 and over to find work. Elia took part in this project for the first time in 2017, training 24 young people in industrial painting for pylons. They took a free General Safety Instructions for Lines course and practised going up and down a pylon in Corbais. Thanks to the training programme, these young refugees all found work as industrial painters for high-voltage pylons.
Rising Youth and Elia won the 2017 Best Sustainable Partnership award for their collaboration at the fourth edition of the Sustainable Partnership Awards, an initiative of the sustainable development organisation The Shift.
Together with the distribution system operators, Elia developed a free educational kit on the energy transition and the importance of saving energy, aimed at children aged between 10 and 14.
A platform game featuring the characters Tom and Léa and experiments to be carried out in class enable the school children to find out in a fun way about the various aspects of the energy landscape and the importance of the rational use of energy.
Six thousand schools received the ElectriCity kit.