Who really wants wind farms? Local support for nearshore wind farms in Denmark

Significance 

Renewable energy technologies are necessary for curbing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and over-reliance on fossil fuels. For this reason, gradually governments and policy makers across the globe are prioritizing sustainable energy development to mitigate the use of fossil fuels. However, in many countries specific renewable energy projects face prevalent local resistance – a major challenge for energy transition processes.

In Denmark, wind power is crucial for the realization of the country’s sustainability and emissions reduction targets. For example, offshore wind farms close to the Danish coast, so-called near-shore wind farms, were a part of the 2012 Danish Energy Agreement. Unexpectedly, these planned wind farms were to become a source of great controversy and contention among the diverse stakeholders involved, and even among the political parties that were signatories of the Energy Agreement. The planned near-shore wind farms were also the subject of extensive and quite negative media coverage.

In recent research, Dr. Katinka Johansen from Aalborg University documented a surprising tendency in attitudes towards the planned Danish near-shore wind farms, however. Data shows that people who allegedly have the highest stakes in the wind farm plans – those people living right by the selected wind farm sites – supported these local renewable energy technology plans.

The data was collected in an almost 2000 respondent survey conducted during the near-shore wind farm bid for tender. The survey targeted permanent area residents and summerhouse owners with properties close to the coast by the selected near-shore wind farm sites. In this survey, respondents were asked about attitudes towards and perceptions of the planned local wind farms. Expectations of potential local area change and impact by the wind farms among respondents was also explored.

Surprisingly, the empirical evidence suggests that among the permanent area residents, i.e. the people living permanently in the local areas, a (small) majority supported the planned local wind farms. This local support for the planned local energy projects was not voiced openly in the wider wind farm related public debate, however. In other words, this local support was rather silent support. The owners of summerhouses in the same local areas; i.e. people living permanently elsewhere, were very negative towards the planned wind farms. Moreover, related research suggests that the wind farm project stakeholders that most actively opposed the plans for local wind farms were not necessarily the locally based stakeholders.

In this regard, Dr. Johansen highlights that documenting actual levels of renewable energy technology project support and opposition among the project stakeholders involved is imperative. She also points towards the need for thoroughly investigating the qualitative nature, as it were, of reactions towards and perceptions of planned energy projects among the people facing the projects. Research shows that complex emotions, personal values, attachment to place and demographic variables all inform how project stakeholders react. Understanding such complex reactions among the diverse stakeholders involved will nuance the specific renewable energy technology project related debate, and these project specific insights will provide a ‘reality check’ for the planners, policy makers and politicians involved. Moreover, potentially they will enable the design of more targeted community benefit schemes for communities hosting – and facing – renewable energy technology projects.

Overall, the research insights highlight the need for more focus on the socio-psychological dynamics of renewable energy technology opposition and support. It also emphasizes the need for more nuanced media representations of local renewable energy technology related controversy.

While different attitudes towards local renewable energy projects amongst the diverse stakeholder groups affected may be expected, the study by Dr. Johansen emphasizes the importance of working together at the local, community and national levels to enable societal transitions to renewable energy resources the sake of future generations and the planet.

The research is published in the journal Energy Policy and in the journal Energy Research and Social Science.

Who really wants wind farms? Attitudes towards local offshore coastal wind farms among local residents and summerhouse owners in Denmark - Advances in Engineering
Attitude towards near-shore wind farms among local permanent area residents and second home owners. Scale: negative, neutral, positive. Note: n=1798, p<0.001***
Who really wants wind farms? Attitudes towards local offshore coastal wind farms among local residents and summerhouse owners in Denmark - Advances in Engineering
Number of visits to the coast the during summer for permanent area residents and second home owners by indicated level of wind farm acceptance. Scale: very negative to very positive. Note: n=1783. n PRs, 1128, p<0.001*** n SHOs, 655, p=0.001***
Who really wants wind farms? Attitudes towards local offshore coastal wind farms among local residents and summerhouse owners in Denmark - Advances in Engineering
Number of visits to the coast the during summer for permanent area residents and second home owners by indicated level of wind farm acceptance. Scale: very negative to very positive. Note: n=1783. n PRs, 1128, p<0.001*** n SHOs, 655, p=0.001***
Who really wants wind farms? Attitudes towards local offshore coastal wind farms among local residents and summerhouse owners in Denmark - Advances in Engineering
Example of near-shore wind farm project visualization from the EIA project material (Source: Energinet.dk, NIRAS and URLAND, 2015).

About the author

Katinka Johansen holds a PhD in energy transitions and social psychology and a Master’s Degree in social anthropology. Her research interests straddle issues of energy transitions, environmental governance and research design. Her PhD focuses on public perceptions of renewable energy technologies, and it touches upon public, political and environmental perspectives in that regard. Her professional toolkit comprises qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods research approaches, and she has conducted anthropological fieldwork in Bolivia, Northern Uganda and Denmark.

Ms. Johansen graduated from the Danish Technological Institute (DTU), and she has worked at Leuphana University in Lüneburg. Currently she holds a position as postdoctoral researcher at Aalborg University, Copenhagen. She is co-author of the book: Energy Transitions and Social Psychology. A sociotechnical perspective.

References

Johansen, K. (2019). Local support for renewable energy technologies? Attitudes towards local near-shore wind farms among second home owners and permanent area residents on the Danish coast. Energy Policy, 132, 691-701. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2018.01.038

Go To Energy Policy

Johansen, K., & Emborg, J. (2018). Wind farm acceptance for sale? Evidence from the Danish wind farm co-ownership scheme. Energy Policy, 117, 413–422. doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2018.01.038

Johansen, K., & Upham, P. (2019). The post-normal politics and science of wind power planning: Evidence from a Danish near-shore wind farm tender. Energy Research and Social Science, 53(February), 182–193. doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2019.02.007

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