Overcoming public opposition to new electricity infrastructure projects
C2C Principal Emay Cowx recently spoke at the First Annual Energy Leaders Roundtable hosted by the Council for Clean and Reliable Electricity on the challenge of earning social acceptance of infrastructure projects. Emay’s presentation was based on her recently published essay “Overcoming Public Opposition to New Electricity Infrastructure Projects” that speaks to the importance of understanding the values of stakeholders as a critical consideration in the development of acceptance. Traditionally, project developers have focused much of their energies in sharing technical and financial expertise but the soft sciences have much to offer in helping gain public acceptance.
The many recent cases where the public has rejected both fossil and renewable electricity generation projects show that economic arguments alone are no longer adequate. A closer look reveals that conducting uninformed and loosely managed public project consultations can do more harm than good. Poorly designed consultation processes increase “social friction” and cause latent community concerns to coalesce into hardened active opposition.
Emay recommends that to build social acceptance, project developers must move beyond education and awareness activities and engage in a practice of collaborative dialogue. To enable such productive two-way discussion, developers need to understand stakeholders’ values and that requires investing effort in up-front research. The result will be a platform from which stakeholders’ understanding of new electricity infrastructure will be improved through a mutual exploration with the developer of risks, benefits and tradeoffs.