Category Renewable Energy and the Public

Towards a Broader Framing of. Social Science Research

Above all, this volume suggests the limitations of a narrow framing of social science research into public engagement with renewable energy. A literature that to date has been rather dominated by research into residents’ acceptance or resist­ance to developer-led, large-scale onshore wind farms (Devine-Wright, 2005) is revealed in this book to be much broader in scope.

Firstly, as Walker and colleagues make clear in Chapter 1 of this volume, public engagement encompasses both the different ways that technology promot­ers seek to communicate and consult with members of the public, and how individuals and groups perceive and respond to such initiatives...

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Two Roles Played by Social Science

Firstly, social scientists can systematically monitor and evaluate engagement activities, including participatory or deliberative mechanisms; seeking to identify whether objectives were met and goals realized, and making recommendations for future practice (see, for example, the chapters in this volume by Ashworth, Upham, Pasqualetti and Improta)...

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Patrick Devine-Wright

Renewable energy is a vital element of national strategies to respond to the threat of climate change, as well as to address concerns over energy security. Social science has a vitally important contribution to make in the transition towards increased use of renewable energy, with two clear ways of informing policies and practices of engagement, both of which are evidenced by the chapters in this volume.

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Concluding Discussion

For this chapter we have provided an overview of how the public can engage with low carbon energy technologies that goes beyond attitudinal surveying. We have shown that, while there was significant heterogeneity within the discourses of our participants, there were two key themes discernable amongst the complexity of perspectives. The first centred on the ways in which participants connected to low carbon technologies through material experience or wider social discourse. The second was focused upon the public’s disillusionment with formal processes of engagement, and the implications of this for notions of acceptability. In this final section, we delineate our participants’ engagement with low carbon technologies around these two broad themes.

Our study was located in an area where l...

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(Dis)empowering and (dis)engaging public(s)

In debates around public acceptance of energy infrastructure, formal processes for engagement have been positioned as integral to siting and planning (Haggett, 2009). In attempting to provide understanding of public engagement with low carbon technologies in local contexts, then, how such processes are conceived can be seen as being of high significance. Our participants perceived formal engagement in relation to these local developments in a number of differing ways. While many of our participants professed that they did not get involved in meetings or consultation processes, this should not be taken to mean they are disengaged. Instead a number of factors, partly relating to their views on engage­ment processes, influenced our participants’ decisions to become involved or not.

For som...

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From the Material to the Imagined

In line with previous studies of populations living locally to nuclear power stations, many of our participants were positive about nuclear generation in general, and about the prospects for new nuclear power in their area in particular. Across the varying, but on the whole positive, conceptions of nuclear power, discourses of low carbon featured prominently:

‘I wouldn’t like to say [nuclear power] is carbon neutral, but it’s got a lower carbon footprint than quite a lot of other energy production methods and it’s not usually noisy, and it’s reliable, generally. I think there’s not the diurnal variation that you are going to get with wind and wave power either. So the National Grid can have a base load from it’ (Valerie).

As might be expected, our participants’ views were not...

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The Study

The research materials on which this analysis is based are drawn from a larger qualitative study which involved meeting with 53 interviewees (some interviews involved more than one person) on two occasions (total interviews, n=82) as well as visual methodologies within two case study sites (Aberthaw in South Wales and Hinkley Point in southwest England); for the purposes of this chapter we focus solely on the first interviews for one site: Hinkley Point.

Hinkley Point currently hosts two nuclear power stations (Hinkley ‘A’, which began operating in 1965 but is currently decommissioning, and ‘B’, which began generating in 1976 and has an estimated decommissioning date of 2016). It is also currently being investigated for the feasibility of hosting new nuclear power...

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Setting the Scene

A significant number of prior empirical studies have examined the perspectives of citizens in localities that host major infrastructure developments. The focus of such work has of course varied, but encompassed within this body of empirical research are works that have examined sites for energy developments, with nuclear energy and wind power receiving particular attention. The public accept­ability of differing energy developments has often formed the focus of such studies, with issues of risk and anxiety frequently featuring as components of the analysis. Less work has questioned the significance of ‘low carbon’ discourses for local citizens in their conceptions of the particular energy infrastructures to which their areas play host...

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