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When it comes to the energy transition, the mantra is "environment first"

Stories of Terna/ Eleonora Marchegiani, Head of Environmental Studies.

«I'm very lucky. Being part of a process and being able to change it for the better...». It is not only her job, but also a deep passion that drives Eleonora Marchegiani, Head of Environmental Studies at Terna. Drawing on her considerable experience developed since joining the company in 2005, Eleonora describes how the operator of Italy’s national transmission grid has put sustainability and the environment at the very centre of its activities. In fact, sustainability and environmental awareness are taken into account from the very first stages of a project.

«The design of new electricity infrastructure involves several phases, from defining the project that will be submitted for authorisation and studying how the project will fit into the local region to the Environmental Impact Assessment.» The direct and indirect impacts of each electricity infrastructure on the human population, the vegetation, the landscape, and on Italy's cultural and environmental heritage, are defined and illustrated in the Environmental Impact Assessment. The aim? «To minimise the impacts of the grid on the region and the surrounding environment,» particularly when planning and designing new projects and during construction, «analysing and closely evaluating all of the elements associated with social and environmental aspects».

Eleonora Marchegiani

Eleonora Marchegiani at work in Terna’s head office, where she is Head of Environmental Studies, in Rome (photo by Terna)

Sustainability, climate action and the environment are becomingly increasingly pressing issues in recent years, especially for businesses involved in infrastructure. And Terna is no exception, «developing increasingly sustainable infrastructure». It’s a journey that began some time ago: «Terna has incorporated all aspects of environmental sustainability into its design process for several years, marking a truly significant cultural shift...».

This is because the company is responsible for electricity transmission throughout Italy, through the development, maintenance and management of the high-voltage grid, as well as for dispatching activities, which consist of the real time management of electricity flows on the grid. As such, like all infrastructure works, the network has a visual impact on the landscape yet represents a «necessary public service» explains Eleonora.

And in her 18 years at Terna, Eleonora has witnessed a great deal of change. «Terna has really evolved in this area. We dedicate an immense amount of time to evaluating measures to reduce and minimise the environmental impacts of our works and to share them with the region, local residents and all of the other bodies involved through specific information events,» right from the early stages. And it is this evaluation, conducted by the Environmental Studies department, that gives the bodies involved in the project an idea of the environmental footprint of an electricity infrastructure and any improvements that can be made through mitigation systems and other measures to offset the impact, «guaranteeing the greatest levels of protection for the surrounding environment».


Sustainability is a strategic driver of Terna’s activities (photo by Terna)

«It is a rather long process: for more complex projects it can take years before the authorisation procedure can begin, because we need to fully investigate the context in which the work will be carried out from a social, visual and naturalistic perspective. The next stage is to draw up the environmental documentation, which is unique to the complexities of each project». But it doesn't end here. In the process that starts at the planning phase and continues even after the infrastructure enters into service, the development of each project at Terna is supervised by a team of internal professionals, specialised in engineering, geology, agronomics, natural sciences and forestry, with the goal of making the best technical decisions in every aspect and mitigating the impact that the infrastructure has on the environment as much as possible.

And while many people have no idea where their careers will take them, for Eleonora it was clear from the outset. «I wanted to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments and so this is what I studied.» And this was at a time when the environment was not yet dominating social and political debate. «When I joined Terna, environmental issues were managed by the Grid Planning and Development office, which no longer exists. Over the years the original department was split into two parts, one devoted to local consulting, which focused on participatory planning processes with stakeholders, and another that focused more on engineering».

Then, around three years ago, the engineering side was divided again into two macro-sectors: Design and Execution. «The area I work in is responsible for Design, and we also take care of the environmental side of the Execution phase.» This offers the opportunity to take preventive action by adopting corrective measures, enriching the framework of knowledge for subsequent plans. «Each year Terna plans a package of infrastructure development measures across Italy, somewhere in the realm of 30 projects.» Two of the most important projects that Eleonora has worked on include rationalisation of the electricity grid in the Reggio Emilia area, and the restructuring of the high-voltage power lines in Val d’Isarco. «Each project has its own story, its own peculiarities, its own characteristics: each work is a challenge».

«It is a rather long process: for more complex projects it can take years before the authorisation procedure can begin, because we need to fully investigate the context in which the work will be carried out from a social, visual and naturalistic perspective. Then the next stage is to draw up the environmental documentation, which is unique to the complexities of each project».

And there is also the human relations aspect to consider. Today Eleonora is Head of Environmental Studies and manages a team of 12 people. «It's a great group of people and we’re hoping to add some more team members - there’s really a lot to do with several projects directly linked to the energy transition.» Behind each success story there are brave, passionate people who share values and a vision of the future.

«Maintaining a certain level of authority over the decisions that need to be taken, and especially the deadlines, and maintaining priorities, is not easy. It's also about developing the resources that you work with. If everyone else is functioning well, then so do you.» At the same time, it's important to maintain a «high level of technical expertise in in-depth analysis, which helps you to make sense of why you embarked on this path and of the goals you want to achieve».

But what does working for Terna really mean? Given Terna’s role as director of the Italian electricity system and enabler of the energy transition, to create a new environmentally sustainable development model based on renewable sources, first of all it is «essential to be able to work in a team, which requires dedication, the ability to listen and debate, and a refusal to give up. It requires enormous passion, but most of all you need to believe in yourself», stresses Eleonora.

«Working for Terna is extremely stimulating. You get to be part of this big machine, made up of so many cogs that all work together.» What continues to inspire her in her work, she adds, are the «continuous exchanges and interactions with colleagues, both internally and with other departments, as well as the possibility to engage with the bodies that assess and evaluate the quality of Terna's projects, with a strong focus on the environment. This is where you realise that you're an integral part of the national energy system and in a position to make a difference to the energy transition. It demands commitment and passion, and this transforms work into the best thing in the world».

Traliccio Germoglio Eleonora Marchegiani

From left to right: Terna professionals Piero Berardi, Eleonora Marchegiani and Nicoletta Rivabene during the construction of the 380 kV Trino-Lacchiarella power line characterised by the “Germoglio” pylons designed by the architect Hugh Dutton (photo by Terna)