Public acceptability of offshore renewable energy in Guernsey: Using visual methods to investigate local energy deliberations
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Public support for renewable energy projects is important in transitioning towards a more sustainable energy system. However, the literature investigating local energy acceptability has predominantly focused on understanding local opposition to single (wind) energy projects. As a result, it has relatively little to say about the construction of support for such projects, and about the relative acceptability of other local contributions to sustainability. Also, by focusing on oppositional responses to energy projects, the willingness and ability of local communities to contribute constructively to the design of locally-supported energy developments has also been overlooked by many previous studies. In response to these limitations, this research adopted a focus on early stage ‘upstream’ deliberation of multiple local energy alternatives, using the British island of Guernsey as a case study. Informed by social representations theory, three studies investigated how potential future offshore wind, tidal and wave energy projects were represented by Guernsey residents to threaten, enhance or fit place-related values and meanings associated with Guernsey and its coast and sea. Working collaboratively with the Guernsey government’s Renewable Energy Team, a mixed methods approach with a focus on participatory, visual methods was adopted, including auto-photography (Study 1), deliberative focus groups (Study 2) and a questionnaire survey (Study 3). The research found Guernsey and its coast and sea to be meaningful to local residents in many ways and at different scales, including as a unique island in need of more independence, with a coast that is valued for its quietness, wildlife, leisure opportunities, tides, natural beauty and as a space for exploration. Public understandings of tidal and wave energy as a local energy option were highly diverse, and subsequently some but not all local offshore renewable energy options were represented as ‘fitting’ these place-related meanings. In particular, the notion of Guernsey’s local distinctiveness was found to be important; tidal energy projects were represented as enhancing this distinctiveness, while offshore wind energy was instead portrayed as making Guernsey more like everywhere else. Overall, local energy acceptance at such an upstream stage was found to depend to a substantial extent on the technology chosen, the selected site for the project, and on how the project is interpreted relationally within a context of wider energy systems, policies and the perceived availability of (more appealing) local alternatives. This thesis suggests that adopting an upstream, visual, place-based approach could be one way to both achieve a better academic understanding of the acceptability of local energy projects, and to contribute to the development of more acceptable energy development practices in the future.
Economic and Social Research Council
States of Guernsey
Wiersma, B. & Devine-Wright, P. (2014). Public engagement with offshore renewable energy: a critical review. WIREs Climate Change, 5(4), 493–507.
PhD in Environment, Energy & Resilience