Fingrid’s operations have a significant positive impact on the environment and climate. Our nationwide main grid creates a platform for a clean power system, which is needed to mitigate climate change. When we build and maintain power lines, substations and reserve power plants, we make sure that environmental and land-use issues are taken into account for the long term. We also relate our principles for reducing our environmental impacts in our land use and environmental policy. Key aspects include a thorough environmental impact assessment (EIA) and preparedness for environmental risks. Our reserve power plants have an ISO 14001 environmental certification.
Achieving climate goals requires impactful actions and collaboration. Building and maintaining the transmission grid contributes to the production and consumption of clean electricity and makes Fingrid a key player in combatting climate change. However, our grid investments that enable the transition to a clean power system also contribute to our carbon footprint. We also work to reduce these negative climate impacts of our operations, even though Fingrid’s positive climate impact heavily outweighs them.
Fingrid has been reporting on the climate impact of its operations according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP) since 2011. Fingrid’s direct CO2 emissions and indirect CO2 emissions, due to the company’s own electricity consumption and transmission losses, totalled 212,202 tonnes of CO2 in 2018. The majority of the emissions (approx. 94%) was caused by the electricity production required to replace power losses taking place during electricity transmission. We minimise losses by keeping the voltage of the transmission grid as high as possible and by making grid investments and equipment procurements that promote energy efficiency. The carbon footprint of the losses diminishes with the changing production mix of electricity, as we enable the transmission of clean electricity in the main grid. Roughly 0.4 per cent of Finland’s greenhouse gas emissions are Fingrid’s emissions. Fingrid is one of the participants in the energy efficiency agreement of Finnish industries for 2017–2025 with a target of cutting energy use by six per cent.
In addition to transmission losses, some climate impact is caused by the reserve power plants used in serious disturbances of the power system and by the powerful greenhouse gas used in substation equipment, sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Our SF6 gas emissions were approximately 21 (24) kilograms. At the end of 2018, there was a total of approximately 49 (45) tonnes of SF6 gas at the substations, and the long-term annual leakage rate has been very low, less than 0.2 per cent on average. Fingrid’s head office building has the international LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) environmental certificate at the gold level.
A thesis study on Fingrid’s indirect greenhouse gas emissions was completed during the year, focusing on the quantities of emission sources other than those owned or controlled by Fingrid. After the transmission losses, the second most important source of indirect greenhouse gas emissions turned out to be the materials used in the grid, in the transmission lines in particular, and the transportation of ready-to-use components. Steel and aluminium production especially increase the carbon footprint of the material production. We will evaluate appropriate measures to further develop our regular greenhouse gas reporting and any additional measures to decrease our negative climate impact on the basis of the thesis results.
Contractors’ and service suppliers’ commitment to our operating practices is ensured with the help of contractual terms, environmental training and auditing related to environmental matters. All personnel working at Fingrid’s work sites complete online training on environmental matters. The service providers employed during the year received training in the updated waste management and recycling practices, as well as environmental training at the start of investment projects and maintenance contracts. Environmental aspects were monitored as part of work site monitoring. Compliance with environmental requirements, occupational safety and contractor obligations were verified in a total of 10 audits. Two audits on overall safety and several audits related to the environmental management system were carried out at reserve power plants.
Our goal is to complete grid investment projects and maintenance without any significant environmental deviations. Such deviations did not occur during the year under review. Materials discarded when building new grid sections and substations or dismantling from old structures are recycled as efficiently as possible. The total volume of waste during the year was approximately 11,890 tonnes, of which 71 per cent was utilised in some way and 62 per cent was recycled.
Fingrid actively participates in land-use planning to ensure safety and land-use reservations for the grid. In 2018, Fingrid issued about 290 statements on land-use plans and environmental impact assessments. In addition, we directed the construction taking place near grid installations by issuing roughly 450 statements that included safety instructions and land-use restrictions.
The impacts of transmission line projects on people and on the environment are determined according to an EIA procedure as required under the legislation on the environmental impact assessment procedure or, for projects with minor impacts, by means of an environmental study. Consultations with landowners are very important in terms of ensuring that the power line adapts to the environment, taking into account various perspectives and stakeholders. The existing transmission line right-of-ways are primarily used in our projects, in accordance with the nationwide land-use objectives stipulated in the Land Use and Building Act. When planning transmission line routes in a new right-of-way, a key aspect is to avoid residential areas and other sensitive sites.
In 2018, environmental assessments were drawn up for the 400-kilovolt underground cable connection planned in Helsinki and for the transmission line project from Kangasala to Tampere. The environmental assessment procedure is ongoing for the Pyhänselkä–Nuojua transmission line and for the Pyhänselkä–Keminmaa and Keminmaa–Tornionjoki transmission lines linked with the third AC connection to Sweden. The projects were presented in four public events during 2018. Fingrid also promoted landowner engagement during the planning stages of these projects through a mailing campaign and an online feedback system.
In order to be able to build, operate and maintain a transmission line, Fingrid expropriates a right-of-use to the transmission line area. Expropriation permit rulings were received for the Elovaara–Pinsiö and Pamilo–Uimaharju transmission lines. Expropriation permit applications were drawn up for the Forest Line, Pamilo–Uimaharju and Kontiolahti–Uimaharju transmission line projects. The compensation process for compulsory purchase was completed for the Hikiä–Forssa, Lavianvuori re-routing, Vihtavuori–Koivisto and Vuoksi–Onnela transmission line projects as well as for the nearly completed Hirvisuo–Pyhänselkä project. Fifteen hearings in accordance with the Finnish Expropriation Act were held with landowners.
Our goal is successful interaction with landowners and neighbours of transmission line right-of-ways. We received good grades from landowners in three surveys on recently completed transmission line projects. On a scale from 1 to 5, our average grade was 3.8. The landowners’ expectations were related to mutual agreements on the use of access roads and movements of our site teams, and to communications on the progress of work. We have taken note of the feedback in developing our project communications, and we continued our experiments with new communication channels and social media.
Legislation on protection of the public from non-ionised radiation from the electromagnetic fields of power lines was updated in December 2018. Fingrid participated in the preparations of the new legislation. The changes do not affect Fingrid’s operations. We continued to publish, jointly with an independent expert party, status reports on global, medically oriented research on electromagnetic fields. While there is no new, conflicting evidence of the health impacts, we understand that people are concerned about the electromagnetic fields of power lines and will monitor the research on this topic. Fingrid also participated in the monitoring group of the review of the Finnish Expropriation Act. The purpose of the review was to determine if changes are necessary to the expropriation legislation from 1978. There has been some discussion on the grounds for compensations, for example. Fingrid has proposed practical changes to make the expropriation procedure more efficient.
We seek to reduce environmental impacts in all stages of the grid lifecycle. The service providers working on maintenance and vegetation trimming along power line right-of-ways are instructed to pay attention to landowners and site-specific environmental values. Landowners were also kept informed. In addition to climate change, degradation of habitats and loss of biodiversity are serious causes of concern both in Finland and globally. People often feel that the clearings made for transmission lines mean a negative change in the local land usage and landscape, but in terms of biodiversity, these open and sunny environments can also have positive impacts. Being cleared regularly, the transmission line areas can act as a replacement habitat for species threatened by disappearing meadows or the drainage of peatlands. Fingrid promotes the usability of transmission line areas by offering landowners idea cards containing information on safe practices for utilising the powerline right-of-ways both for ecological and financial benefits. We also grant initial funding and advisory services for managing the right-of-way as a heritage habitat.
Widening transmission line clearings can prevent the movements of flying squirrels, a species under strict protection. Measures were taken to secure the passage of flying squirrels in the Vihtavuori–Koivisto transmission line project commissioned during the year. Special poles were erected in the transmission line clearing to provide flying squirrels a passage across the clearing. Over time, trees growing at the crossing area will form the permanent passage.
Procedure for increasing decayed wood and biodiversity in forests next to transmission lines
Many of the endangered species living in forest habitats depend on decaying wood. We have evaluated our possibilities to take into account the crucial role of decaying wood in biodiversity and to leave more of it in the forest when clearing the edges of power line right-of-ways to secure reliable transmission of electricity. In our model, we ask the landowners for permission to artificially make dead trees close to the edge of the right-of-way when we contact them to agree on the clearing work.
The trees are cut off at a height of 2 to 4 metres and left to rot standing up. Also the crowns are left decaying in the forest. Trees of low financial value or ones that are already drying up are primarily used for the purpose. Many insects, fungi, lichens and moss species depend on decaying wood. Dried up trees offer nesting hollows for birds.