Challenging public engagement: participation, deliberation and power in renewable energy policy

Abstract

Citizen engagement in policymaking represents an increasingly popular mechanism for both civic rejuvenation and environmental policy innovation. Its application in many different policy fora from city budgeting to housing and energy systems across various national contexts provides, in theory, space for the public to feel empowered, connected to new policy spaces and positions them to aid in design and implementation of more effective solutions to complex social and environmental problems. This engagement takes many different forms, including deliberative polling, citizen’s assemblies, online referenda and creation of community-based ownership. However, various forms of engagement are also accompanied by challenges of poor design and limited local capacity that can undermine their effectiveness and, ultimately, public confidence in government actors and processes. This article challenges renewable energy advocates to consider more serious insights from political and institutional theorists about the complexities of participatory designs. It draws on three initiatives in Canada and Denmark to illustrate both the promise and the challenge of public engagement in this significant policy subsector.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Combined heat and power is a system where the heat emitted from electricity generation is captured and used, rather than wasted. This heat can be used by the generation facility for its own purposes or be integrated within a larger area as part of a ‘district heating’ system, where centrally produced heat (geothermal, solar, heat pumps, thermal power generation) is circulated through a local area to be used for space and water heating. This system typically results in significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions, cost savings and resource consumption when compared with business as usual scenarios.

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Correspondence to Julie. L MacArthur.

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This article originated from an intellectually stimulating 2-day symposium in 2014 organized by Professor Priya Kurian and Professor Debashish Munshi on controversial science and technology at the University of Waikato. The author would like to thank them for organizing the event and to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback and careful reading of the manuscript.

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MacArthur, J.L. Challenging public engagement: participation, deliberation and power in renewable energy policy. J Environ Stud Sci 6, 631–640 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-015-0328-7

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Keywords

  • Renewable energy
  • Participation
  • Public engagement
  • Policy