The Northern Grid Alliance - a partnership between Transpower and the Balfour Beatty-United Group joint-venture - knew the scale of the North Island grid upgrade would require a new form of environment management system (EMS).
The upgrade, one of the largest transmission projects in New Zealand since the 1960s, involves the construction of a 186-kilometre long, 400 kV overhead line running from the Whakamaru North substation in Taupo to the Brownhill substation in South Auckland. By the time it is completed in July 2012 it will have affected 318 properties and seen 426 new towers built. Another 460 structures along the old Arapuni-Pakuranga line will also be removed.
The Alliance says the biggest challenge was to design a system that could sustain the volume of environmental planning and work for the project.
Continuity of knowledge, be it from notices of requirement or consents, the needs of councils and stakeholders, or of operational and construction effects, had to be maintained across the entire project. And the EMS had to deliver outcomes, and not become solely about systems and processes.
The two key elements of the EMS were the creation of an innovative "Environmental Performance Triangle" and the implementation of the "Environmental Construction Management Plan."
The triangle measures environmental impacts in a scoring system, reporting on the progress of key environmental objectives and targets, addressing where incidents have occurred and identifying areas for improvement.
The top layers relate to significant events requiring immediate attention and mitigation, while the lower layers reward compliance and attempt to identify trends to reduce future incidents.
The construction management plan was developed with each of the nine councils involved and sets out a framework to meet legislative, Transpower and community expectations for managing potential adverse effects on the environment. Community inconvenience was to be minimised and clear roles and responsibilities were established to ensure everyone was kept 'on the same page.'
Events identified as possibly high-risk were made subject to additional controls and mitigation measures.
The alliance says a big success of the process was a change in culture within staff working on the project, particularly around `near-miss' and environmental incident reporting.
Excellent working relationships were developed with the nine councils involved, with constant communication helping to develop a "no surprise" culture among all the parties. Close work with the Historic Places Trust helped streamline the process for gaining archaeological authorities, while the trust appointed a single point of contact for the project and assisted in training construction crews in how to meet the conditions of the authorities.
To date, the EMS is working exceptionally well, with 100 per cent compliance with external audits and council requirements.
In 2011 the Environmental Excellence category was sponsored by PEPANZ.