To reach 100%+ renewables, we need to build transmission lines to connect regions with high wind, solar & storage potential with the rest of our grid. These are huge, nation-building bits of infrastructure that take years to plan and build.
Many people rightly wonder about the ecological impact of these lines. Should they be allowed to go through state and national parks? How much land needs to be cleared? What can you do with the land underneath?
Some transmission companies in Europe have adopted what they call "Integrated Vegetation Management” practices, where the land underneath transmission lines is actively managed in a way so as to support local habitats.
Basically, just because you can’t have tall trees under transmission lines, doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do with the land underneath to benefit the local environment.
“U” shape clearing around transmission line on the left, “V” shape on the right which allows for smaller trees, shrubs and grasses to be planted, allowing some level of continuation between forest sides
An example of “V” shape revegetation from the Life Elia project which aims to to create green corridors under overhead electrical lines in wooded areas in Belgium and France.
The best examples of this occur when the program is developed and managed in close coordination with landowners and local environmental groups to determine the best approach. Examples include:
- Planting native grasses or flowers that support important local insect species or attract bees, to support the local habitat
- Planting small shrubs or trees identified as supporting endangered birds or other species
- Planting small trees, grasses and shrubs that allow smaller animals to continue traveling between bush on both sides of the transmission line
These practices could be implemented where there is little other option but to go through state or national parks, or in coordination with landholders where transmission lines go through unfarmed, vegetated private property or vegetated grazing land.
Local environmental groups thinking about transmission lines planned for their area could begin to think about whether there are any species that might be supported by fostering local grasses, insects or small trees in transmission line corridors.
State and federal governments can consider funding pilot Integrated Vegetation Management programs to trial how these concepts can be applied across Australian landscapes.
Transmission companies should meet with local environmental groups to discuss endangered species management in the local area and ask what can be done with transmission line easements to support species protection.
Renewables Grid Initiative in Europe has compiled a great guide on how to overcome challenges to implementing best-practice Integrated Land Management projects.
Do you have an idea for this type of project in Australia? Get in touch if you’d like to discuss.