Federal Administrative Court Dismisses Lawsuits Against Extra-high Voltage Line in Thuringia

Yesterday, the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig (BVerwG) dismissed lawsuits by a municipality, a cooperative of forest owners (Waldgenossenschaft), and private land owners against the plan determination decision (Planfeststellungsbeschluss) for the 380 kV extra-high voltage power line between Vieselbach near Erfurt and Altenfeld, both located in Thuringia. The project is part of the planned 380 kV extra-high voltage power line, which shall connect the transformer station Bad Lauchstädt in Saxony-Anhalt with the transformer station Redwitz in Bavaria, crossing Thuringia (the so-called Thüringer Strombrücke (Thuringian power bridge)).

On 31 January 2012 the Thuringian State Administration Authority (Landesverwaltungsamt) issued a plan decision in favour of the Vieselbach-Altenfeld project section, against which the lawsuits were directed. In this section the extra-high voltage line shall run parallel to existing infrastructure routes (Infrastrukturtrassen) for a length of 57 km. The northern part shall follow the existing 380 kv power line Mecklar-Vieselbach and cross a bird sanctuary at the Riechheim Mountain south east of Erfurt. In southern direction the power line shall mostly run along the motorway A 71 and a high speed railway line, crossing the district of the municipal plaintiff on a length of 700 metres.

The power line shall span the properties of the other plaintiffs and power poles shall partly be erected on land of some of the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs alleged the power line project was not necessary, besides it was oversized. Furthermore, their interests as a tourism community, an operator of a restaurant frequented by tourists and as land owners, had not been given sufficient consideration in the plan determination decision.

Pursuant to Section 50 para. 6 German Administrative Court Rules (VwGO), BVerwG – the highest German administrative court – is the competent court, and only instance for preliminary injunctions and the all other law suits against the plan determination decision. It held that the plan justification resulted from the Energy Line Extension Act (EnLAG, cf. Section 1 para. 2 sent. 2 and 3), which was binding for the plan determination authority and the court.

The court saw no reason that the underlying assessment by the legislator (regarding the need for the power line) was evidently inappropriate. The line was needed as part of the integrated European electricity network and as a national interconnector. Measures to optimise and enhance existing power lines alone were not enough. Besides such measures could not yet be considered as generally accepted engineering standards for extra-high voltage lines. Due to the fact that the power line shall run along the existing extra-high power line Mecklar-Vieselbach, considerable (negative) effects for the bird sanctuary would not arise. There were no serious flaws in the authority’s assessment of the plan. The interests of the municipal plaintiff as a recognised health resort and tourism community had been given appropriate consideration.

With this decision construction on the second of the three sections of the Thuringian power bridge can safely continue. The first section is already in operation since December 2008. According to the project developer, the transmission system operator 50Hertz, the documents for the plan determination procedure for the last part between Altenfeld and Redwitz have been submitted in March 2013.

The Thuringian power bridge is only one many of the 24 EnLAG extra-high voltage power line projects that are delayed as the German grid regulator, the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA), and the German Cartel Office pointed out in their Annual Monitoring Report 2012 (cf. page 44 et seq.).

Source: Bundesverwaltungsgericht (ref.no. BVerwG 7 A 4.12)

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