Reducing the environmental impact of our facilities
Elia seeks innovative solutions and cooperates with the non-profit sector on biodiversity and landscape projects.
For safety reasons (to prevent falls and short circuits), no trees are allowed to grow close to high-voltage power lines. Until recently, our maintenance policy for overhead lines involved ensuring that a corridor approximately 50 metres wide below the lines was kept clear of all vegetation. This policy is not only expensive for Elia but also detrimental to biodiversity.
The ‘Elia LIFE+’ project is a five-year Europe-wide project led by Elia that aims to transform 130 km of forest corridors into fully-fledged ‘ecological corridors’. Instead of going over these areas with a rotary slasher every five, six, seven or eight years, Elia intends to restore more stable natural environments below the lines (such as peat bogs, bushes and grasslands managed by grazing), since they will be easier and cheaper to maintain and will be better suited to biodiversity.
The project's ultimate goal is to set an example for all the other European transmission system operators.
A significant share of the budget will be used to publish a ‘good practice guide’ that will set out the various management options for the corridors and show their financial benefits. The guide will be used at Elia and distributed to other European transmission system operators (e.g. through the international organisations ENTSO-E and CIGRE).
French transmission system operator RTE is involved in the project and will test the developments in the various European climate areas in France (in Aquitaine, the High Alps, Brittany…).
If as many transmission system operators active in Europe as possible adopt these good practices, this will result in the creation of the very first ecological network.
Funding and partners
The project will cost €2.55 million. Elia will receive a subsidy amounting to €1.166 million through the LIFE+ project from the European Union and a subsidy of €815,000 from the Walloon Region (through the Walloon Directorate-General for Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment).
Elia will contribute €460,000 and RTE will provide €110,000. Two non-profit organisations (Solon and Carah) will manage the project in constant consultation with Elia. Private, public and non-profit partners are thus involved in this project.
Find out more on the official site of the ‘Elia LIFE+’ project.
Some 10 years ago, around 50 pylon bases in the Limburg area were landscaped by planting bushes, making them more suited to biodiversity.
A second project involving planting flowering meadows and bushes in the areas below around 10 pylons was carried out between 2008 and 2011 in cooperation with the non-profit organisation Faune&Biotope. These areas serve as a place of refuge for local animals in large areas of open land. The results so far have been very encouraging.
Owing to their height, high-voltage pylons are ideal nesting spots for some species of birds, such as kestrels. Elia regularly sets up nesting boxes for them on its pylons. Around 100 have already been fitted in Belgium’s three regions.
Along with the non-profit organisation Natagora, Elia is currently conducting a study to more accurately pinpoint the collision and electrocution risks for birds in areas with overhead lines. The results of this study will not only allow Elia to identify those sections of existing lines where it would be worth deploying means to protect birds, but also to determine areas that must be avoided when erecting or moving an overhead line.
A new project management system for areas where environmental restrictions apply (e.g. woodland covered by the Forest Code, Natura 2000 and nature reserves) has been put in place to better take account of the legislative restrictions relating to the environment in these areas.
Therefore, Elia places special emphasis on the fauna and flora in the corridors below the overhead lines. The total length of the corridors in Natura 2000 areas is more than 320 km.
Indigenous defensive hedges (hawthorn, dog rose and blackthorn) are planted each year around high-voltage substations to both merge the facilities into the landscape better and provide a habitat for the local fauna. Thorny shrubs also deter intruders. Almost 12 km of indigenous bushes (i.e. more than 40,000 plants) have already been planted around 17 of Elia's substations.
In many cases, when large-scale projects are carried out in highly visible areas, environmental impact assessments or town-planning permission applications are complemented by a landscape study that includes suggestions to merge facilities into the landscape better (by e.g. planting bushes).
Ground near substations and some plots of land within the substations have been redeveloped to provide a better habitat for biodiversity. For example, flowering meadows, bushes and verges have been planted depending on the surrounding landscape. In 2011, four areas of land totalling over 3,000 m² were developed in this way.