“Tête-à-tête with Grzeg” is a series of captivating conversations between the people who make a difference in the energy industry and our CEO, Grzegorz Marecki. In these interviews, we delve into the challenges, opportunities and successes of the industry. Each interviewee provides a unique perspective that helps to enrich the broader discussion. This exchange takes you on a journey into the heart of the energy sector and its key players.
G: Hi Sharon! Thanks for taking the time to chat. Could you start by telling me about you and the work that you do?
S: Hi Grzeg, always a pleasure!
I’m Sharon Darcy and I was most recently the CEO of Sustainability First, a leading think tank focused on sustainability and public well-being in utilities. I have over 20 years of board experience and have sat on multiple expert panels, including Ofgem’s innovation competitions and the UK Regulators’ Network as well as being a Council member of Which?.
I’m currently the Chair of the Linear Infrastructure Planning Panel (LIPP) which is an advisory panel working with key public interest stakeholders to develop good practices in new approaches to linear infrastructure planning.
G: What is the purpose of the panel? And who does it bring around the table?
S: The advisory panel aims to consult and incorporate the perspectives of key public interest stakeholders, including social and environmental groups, in the development of good practices and ethical approaches in the use of new techniques, such as algorithms and advanced software tools, for linear infrastructure planning. For instance, it seeks to understand how new approaches and processes can best support communities and developers in their discussions about local impacts.
Members of the panel are drawn from a range of social and environmental NGOs, community groups, planning and data experts and professional bodies along with observers from government and regulatory bodies. Members include organisations such as the Royal Town Planning Institute and Green Alliance. The panel also works with infrastructure developers and technology providers.
G: What are some of the challenges that need to be addressed in order to achieve the goals of decarbonisation and meet the climate change targets?
S: The number of people who support decarbonisation to tackle the climate emergency has increased significantly and many people understand we need renewable energy.
We need to decarbonise our economy much more quickly than we are doing at the moment. We're not moving fast enough to meet our climate change targets.
As well as increasing our energy efficiency, one of the key things we need to do is to electrify our economy. To do this, we need to build a lot more electricity network infrastructure. If we don't do this, we're not going to meet our net-zero commitments.
One of the problems we face is that a lot of the renewable energy produced is needed in centres of population, in major cities in the UK and areas like the South East. But a lot of the power is coming from the North Sea or Scotland. New energy networks are needed to move the electricity around.
G: How important is it to enable meaningful public engagement ahead of linear infrastructure planning decisions?
S: When it comes to infrastructure projects, it’s never been more critical to enable early public involvement in the engagement process and that means looking at a new approach to infrastructure route planning.
Community consent is vital if you want these projects to go ahead. Research has found a relationship between positive experiences of consenting processes and subsequent more positive views of the development, highlighting the importance of a deeper understanding of local peoples’ views. For instance, communities are also more likely to accept development for wind energy generation where processes are perceived to be fair.
It’s important to also note the difference between linear infrastructure and other types of infrastructure. For example, some academic research suggests that communities can be more supportive of a new power station and less supportive of the accompanying linear infrastructure; the electricity transmission lines going to and from that power station. That may be because the new power station might create jobs so will have a direct economic benefit to that community.
However, with linear infrastructure, it may be seen as unsightly since it may cut through people's fields and towns and there may be fewer retained benefits’ in the community impacted. People have sometimes objected to projects, not only due to the impacts on the landscape and their lives, land and properties, but also due to the way communities have been engaged.
G: What do you hope the Panel will achieve in its first year?
S: In terms of its key achievements, what I'd like to see the Panel do is enable communities, planners and developers to have better conversations about what stage in the process new technologies such as AI can add the most benefit. If you only use this sort of technology at the end of the decision-making process, then people may naturally ask what's in it for them? The stakeholders may feel excluded.
We need a discussion about what stage in the consultation process a technology like Optioneer could add the most public value and how the outputs from such algorithms can be as accessible as possible to support the crucial discussions developers have with communities and build trust.
G: We cannot wait to see the findings that emerge from these discussions!
S: The panel disseminates its work widely, so keep an eye on our website
www.lippanel.org. This sharing of discussions also provides opportunities for people to debate its emerging findings and that's a really healthy process.
The panel is supported by Continuum Industries who have provided funding to kick-start the panel’s work. The team will seek to implement the panel’s findings; helping to change planning practice to better meet the needs of the people and the planet.
To learn more about the LIPP and the work that it does, go to lippanel.org and follow the panel on LinkedIn