Community acceptability and the energy transition: a citizens' perspective

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Lennon, Breffní
Dunphy, Niall P.
Sanvicente, Estibaliz
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BMC, Part of Springer Nature
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Background: Every energy transition has had its winners and its losers, both economically and in terms of social justice and community cohesion. The current transition is no different given the complex, intersecting matrices of power and experience that influence the key stakeholders and actors involved. Local oppositions to the deployment of renewable energy technologies have been significantly higher than expected. In numerous instances, these oppositions have been in reaction to the disempowerment of local rights and entitlements associated with specific developments. Consequently, there is a clear need for governance structures and organisational formats that are participatory, inclusive and mindful of the lived experiences of local people. Despite the knowledge gaps and financial constraints that continue to persist, how can local communities become empowered to drive project development and meaningfully engage in the low-carbon energy transition? Methods: This paper presents a methodology for investigating citizen perceptions of the energy transition and the kinds of roles they see themselves having in its implementation. Working with six communities across five European countries (France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the UK), we conducted a series of iterative cross-sectional community engagements using a mixed methods approach. In addition, a number of innovative participatory action research tools were incorporated to engage citizens in co-designing their own energy transition pathways. Results: Participants expressed having restricted agency as citizens participating in the energy system. They also felt locked in to a limiting set of false choices as ‘energy consumers’ that do not translate into real or meaningful power, despite popular narratives to the contrary. The research also resulted in a co-designed characterisation tool to help local communities assess the energy democracy and citizen participation potential of a number of participatory business models. Conclusions: Citizens remain locked out of the decision-making processes of the energy transition. We outline a more integrated approach, using co-design and participatory action research, to incorporate citizen perspectives into the planning and implementation of more appropriate business configurations. This paper presents demonstrable examples of how extended stakeholder perspectives can improve procedural justice outcomes and ensure the rollout of more equitable energy configurations into the future.
Energy transition , Cooperative mechanisms , Transformative social innovation , Sustainable communities , Participatory business models , Citizen empowerment , Business configurations , Community development , Community energy
Lennon, B., Dunphy, N. P. and Sanvicente, E. (2019) 'Community acceptability and the energy transition: a citizens’ perspective', Energy, Sustainability and Society, 9(1), 35 (18 pp). doi: 10.1186/s13705-019-0218-z