Motivations, incentives, and commitments: financial benefits and citizen participation in onshore wind energy in Ireland

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le Maitre, Julia
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University College Cork
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Social acceptance of onshore wind energy is a fundamental constraint for the delivery of sustainable electricity supply (Wüstenhagen et al., 2007). For a country such as the Republic of Ireland, this is a significant impediment to the decarbonisation of the energy sector (Brennan et al., 2017; Hallan and González, 2020; Van Rensburg et al., 2015), since onshore wind energy is expected to increase from approximately a third of the electricity mix to 80% by 2030 (SEAI, 2023). In 2019, Ireland introduced the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme with the aim of quadrupling its supply of onshore wind energy. The policy introduced a variety of financial benefits directed towards local communities to facilitate social acceptance, including community benefit funding and incentives focused on households closest to the wind farm, in the form of ‘near-neighbour’ compensation (DECC, 2021). The scheme also opened consideration for a new mechanism to encourage citizen investment into wind farms (DCCAE, 2020). The novelty, scope, and value of these mechanisms underscore the need for detailed research to identify how they could be designed and implemented to enhance their fairness, benefit, and acceptance. This thesis asks how specific attributes of financial participation mechanisms aimed at enhancing social acceptance influence citizens' willingness to accept, or to invest in, wind farms in their community. This thesis is based on two specialised surveys to examine how Irish citizens trade-off between different features of wind farm developments and their associated financial benefits. The research provides detailed insights into the preferences of supporters, conditional supporters, and non-supporters for wind farm developments in the community and presents recommendations concerning distributive and procedural issues across each phase of project development. Firstly, the findings show that citizens’ preferences for the distribution of financial benefits from wind farms are affected by procedural factors over planning, construction, and operation. Community participation in the governance of the community benefit fund and in the ownership of the wind farm have particularly high relative importance for strong supporters of wind farms. In addition, the developer and the proximity of the wind farm strongly influence willingness to accept. Secondly, the thesis contributes new evidence towards the design of citizen wind energy investments, and reveals a strong relationship between community acceptance, the proximity of the wind farm, and citizen investment preferences. Overall, financial attributes including the level of risk and expected return on investment have the greatest influence on citizen investment. However, the structure of voting rights, ownership and administration of the investment are generally regarded as having a higher relative importance if the wind farm is within 2km of the community, or a respondent is supportive of wind energy development. Thirdly, familiarity with a wind farm, whether a result of its proximity or phase of development, is a significant determinant of residents’ willingness to accept further development in the community. Critical points for local support of wind farms are at the earliest pre-planning / planning phases of development, as well as for households within the 2km radius of a wind farm. Other latent factors, such as attitudes towards wind electricity, trust in information provided by a developer, or awareness of community energy initiatives significantly affect community acceptance. Lastly, a comparative case study analyses the design of financial benefits, citizen investment and near-neighbour incentives in Ireland with corresponding mechanisms introduced by Denmark, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Based on a critical assessment of the design and adaptation of policy mechanisms over time, the findings suggest that it is becoming more common for these governments to endorse the development of community trusts or municipality community benefit funds. It also suggests that community-led wind farms experience difficulties related to the competitive nature of the auction regime. The chapter recommends that when defining eligibility or boundaries on citizen financial participation, policymakers could use a phased approach, first prioritising residents closest to a wind farm, and then opening opportunities across a wider geography in the second instance. The research is relevant for policy and practice. It enhances the understanding of citizens’ preferences for financial participation mechanisms in onshore wind farms, which is conducive to social acceptance and fairer local energy transitions. It would be valuable for future studies to develop on this evidence in the context of offshore wind energy and demand-side response which are increasingly important for the Irish energy transition. The diffusion of these innovative technologies similarly depends on citizen participation, fairness, and ultimately social acceptance.
Social acceptance , Choice experiment , Wind energy , Citizen investment , Community benefit fund , Spatio-temporal dynamics
le Maitre, J. 2023. Motivations, incentives, and commitments: financial benefits and citizen participation in onshore wind energy in Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.