Workshop C1)
Public Opposition to Energy Projects and Local Energy Communities: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Hosted by Eefje Cuppen (TU Delft) and Aad Correljé (TU Delft)


The emergence of new energy technology brings about new institutional arrangements and new (power) relations between actors. In this session our focus is on citizens, and how their values and interests are, or can be, catered for in new sociotechnical systems. The role of citizens in sociotechnical energy systems ranges from (captive or active) consumers, to investors, to supporters, participants, protestors and hosts (Walker & Cass, 2007). In this session we focus on two particular ways in which citizens manifest themselves in the energy transition: as active stakeholders voicing concerns over new energy initiatives, and as active stakeholders organising their own energy production system in local energy initiatives. The session involves contributions that either analyse local energy initiatives and controversial energy projects. In both types of cases citizens actively organise themselves in relation to energy technology. A comparison between these two manifestations is made in order to discuss the question if and to what extent these are driven by similar motivations, values, dynamics and institutional factors. Are these two sides of the same coin? And what does that imply for governance arrangements and instruments fostering the energy transition?



The following speakers will contribute to the workshop:


Controversy as informal assessment: towards an inclusive framework for decision making in innovative energy projects

Elisabeth van de Grift (TU Delft), Eefje Cuppen (TU Delft), Aad Correljé (TU Delft), Udo Pesch (TU Delft), Behnam Taebi (TU Delft and Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs)

New technologies that are introduced to our existing energy system are often sources of controversy; think of public opposition to wind parks, biogas installations, transmission lines and shale gas. Whereas controversy is often seen as a barrier to implementation, we take the position that controversy can be regarded as an informal assessment of the energy project. Controversies articulate the conflicting values at stake and reveal unanticipated societal and ethical risks, and associated costs and benefits. We distinguish informal assessment from formal assessment. Formal assessment involves tools such as environmental impact assessment and (social) cost-benefit analysis to evaluate and ascertain formally established public values, associated with safety, health and economy. However, such (legally) formalized tools do not recognize the importance of ethical sensibility and therefore cannot cover the wide and variable range of values that an energy project puts at stake for different people in society. As a result, formal assessment methods often become debated, for instance because their scope and process is not considered appropriate for the project at hand. As such they can be seen as imperfect (and sometimes even counterproductive) in supporting socially responsible public-private decision-making in energy projects.

To move beyond responsibility frameworks with a traditional focus on technological values, we propose a more inclusive way in order to better understand public engagement with new energy technologies and gain insights on the related procedural and institutional context. As mentioned earlier, the framework will distinguish informal assessment from formal assessment and is based on the principle of Responsible Innovation. In the coming years this framework will be explored in the research project ‘RESPONSE’: RESPonsible innovation: linking formal and infOrmal assessmeNt in deciSionmaking on Energy projects’.


Our houses are collapsing! Framing fear and anger in Groningen, the Netherlands

Tamara Metze (Tilburg University) & Imrat Verhoeven (University of Amsterdam)

The conflict on the ‘gas-quakes’ of Groningen is a highly emotionally charged controversy that provides a window on the role of emotions in processes of claims making by politicians and action groups. In this paper we conducted a frame analysis of three media peaks in five national and one regional newspaper. We explored the emotional appeals and action repertoires of two action groups: the moderate Groningen Bodem Beweging and the radical Schokkend Groningen. Our analysis demonstrates that: combinations of moderate intensity appeals to fear and anger seem to work well with informing citizens and representing them in lobby-activities, some demonstrations and judicial action. Appealing to anger on a high intensity level with blaming individuals or organizations combines better with more radical forms of activism. In addition, the moderate emotional levels attract a much broader membership base than higher level intensity of emotions but this may shift when events occur that raise these levels. Hence, the intensity of emotional appeals seems to be closely related to the ongoing flow of events and are often responses to those events.


The Dutch community energy sector and its socio-technological innovation potential

Esther van der Waal (University of Groningen), Henny van der Windt (University of Groningen), Ellen van Oost (Eindhoven University of Technology)

This paper is to give a first impression of the Dutch community energy sector’s current technological innovation potential, aiming to contribute to theory development within socio-technological transitions literature, and specifically Strategic Niche Management. It furthers the understanding of the extent to which collective civic action on renewable energy - in academic literature predominantly described as a social innovation - can influence, co-produce, and possibly even enhance the development and dissemination of emergent, innovative RE technologies by offering local seedbeds for experimentation and early adoption. Central is a focus on the interaction between so-called social and technological niche innovations in the Dutch community energy sector. After assessing the state of the art of the Dutch community energy sector’s technological innovativeness briefly, some cases will be discussed, covering a the spectrum ranging from low to high socio-technological innovativeness. A specific stress will be on identification of project internal and external circumstances that influenced the extent to which the community energy initiatives engage in innovation and dissemination of emergent RE technologies.  


Constructing local alternative energy futures in the Rotterdam-Delft-The Hague region

Udo Pesch, Jaco Quist & Wouter Spekkink (TU Delft)

There appear to be two ways in which citizens react to the challenges posed by the energy transition. On the one hand, the implementation of new energy technologies lead to local forms of opposition because of their possible impact on the local social and natural environment, such as safety risks, environmental harm, the quality of life, visual intrusion and loss of property value. Such opposition can be seen as a manifestation of what Rosanvallon calls negative democracy. It is a form of political participation that is most basically against something, often taking on a conservative character, very much in context of the defense of a given place. The implementation of new energy and infrastructural technologies is especially vulnerable for such protests, as they typically have an impact on a specific location.

On the other hand we may observe an increase in the emergence of local initiatives started by citizens or public interest groups that involve the use and development of new technologies. Such initiatives seem to emerge out of the discontent with the domains of the market, politics and institutionalized NGOs that experience a decreasing amount of legitimacy to attend societal values. However, these initiatives cannot be exclusively labeled as forms of negative democracy, because they also aim to develop alternatives forms of producing and consuming energy having a wide range of sociotechnical implications. As such, it would be good to also address the constructive democratic inclinations of such initiatives. We will do so by looking at the nature of alternative practices offered by city-based initiatives on sustainable development in the Rotterdam-Delft-The Hague region. We will analyze these initiatives by looking at the lifestyles, motivations, and roles of their respective participants. Data have been collected as part of the EU FP7 funded Glamurs (Green Lifestyles, Alternative Models and Upscaling Regional Sustainability) project (Glamurs 2013) in which bottom-up social experiments by citizens are studied on their relevance and potential for upscaling regional sustainability. Moreover, we will present the way these practices relate to alternative future visions derives from two stakeholder workshops organized with participants of these local initiatives and other stakeholders from the region.