Public Opinion and Communicative Action Around Renewable Energy Projects

Title: Public Opinion and Communicative Action Around Renewable Energy Projects
Authors: Fast, Stewart
Date: 2013
Abstract: This thesis investigates how rural communities negotiate the development of renewable energy projects. Public and local community acceptance of these new technologies in rural areas around the world is uncertain and spatially uneven and represents an area of emerging public policy interest and one where scholarly theory is rapidly developing. This thesis uses Habermasian concepts of public sphere, communicative action and deliberative democracy, as well as the concept of “wicked problems” from the planning studies literature combined with geographical concepts of place and scale to advance theoretical and empirical understanding of how public opinion on renewable energy technologies is formed in place. It documents energy use patterns, attitudes and sociopolitical relations at a time when considerable state and business efforts are directed at the construction of solar, wind, biomass and small-hydro technologies in rural regions. These concepts and theories are applied in a case study of rural communities in the Eastern Ontario Highlands, an impoverished area undergoing rapid restructuring driven by centralization of services and amenity migration but with abundant natural resources in form of forests, numerous waterways and open space which have attracted a broad range of new energy developments. Overall high levels of support for alternative energy development particularly for solar power were found, albeit for reasons of local energy security and not for reasons of preventing climate change. There was some evidence that seasonal residents are less supportive of hydro and biomass projects than permanent residents possibly reflecting broader trends in rural economies away from productive uses of land to consumptive appreciation of rural landscapes. The thesis suggests that collective action to advance energy projects in the case study area require agreement along three world-claims (truth, rightness and truthfulness) and that communication leading to discourse which uncovers hitherto hidden reasons for action is possible. These findings offer rare empirical evidence of the predictions of deliberative democratic theory in environmental planning settings. However, multiple barriers to communicative action were also identified and there is evidence that the state’s reliance on market incentives may have long term costs in terms of diminished public reasoning around renewable energy.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -