In this post, we speak with Dr. Nina Lansbury Hall. She and a team of researchers have been working with Australia’s Clean Energy Council—the renewable energy sector’s industry group—to investigate what can go wrong (and right) with wind farm development projects. Their article Evaluating Community Engagement and Benefit-Sharing Practices in Australian Wind Farm Development won First Prize in the 2017 Case Studies in the Environment Prize Competition.
UCP: Dr. Nina Hall, you worked with a research team evaluating wind farm development in Australia. Renewable energy sources are broadly popular with the public. Given this support, why have wind farm development initiatives sometimes gone wrong?
NH: We investigated the many ways that companies developing and operating wind farms in Australia engage with local communities. Certainly many factors can influence the way that a community responds to a wind-farm proposal. However, we did find that over the long term, face-to-face communication and relationship-building activities through trusted representatives have a huge impact on the support that communities voice for local projects.
UCP: What concerns do local communities express about wind-farm developments, and how can those concerns be addressed?
NH: We found that understanding each community—each of which is different—was really important. And then it’s important to respond to community concerns in a collaborative way. For example, wind-farm developers can provide the community with a say in how decisions are made, being clear about how the community can influence the design or operation of a development. Also if developers give communities a stake in a project or some kind of ownership—financial or otherwise—such actions are big influencers in resolving concerns about a project. I should note that we saw some fantastic examples where companies had success by being flexible in their approach, taking a big-picture approach, and trying new ways of doing things that were focused on face-to-face communication and relationship building.
UCP: Your research focuses on wind development, but I was struck by the contrast between your formula for successful renewable energy development (context/trust/people/face-to-face interactions/community influence) and the approach that the energy company Corridor Resources took with their secrecy and lack of engagement around an offshore exploration and development project in Canada’s Old Harry Prospect. Beyond renewables, do you think there are lessons for the broader energy-development sector?
NH: Sure. You are likely right in that many lessons from this research could be considered in other large infrastructure developments. In particular, one clear outcome from our research was that a large, visible project does not necessarily mean less community support. The way engagement is carried out and how you work with the local community can have a dramatic impact on local support and should not be overlooked. In our research projects, we saw that engagement that focused on openness, inclusivity, and less secrecy certainly yielded positive results.
The Australian research team included Dr. Nina Lansbury Hall (The University of Queensland), Jarra Hicks (University of New South Wales; Community Power Agency), Taryn Lane (Embark), and Emily Wood (an independent communications contractor). To read their related case-study article in UC Press’s journal Case Studies in the Environment, visit cse.ucpress.edu or click here: Evaluating Community Engagement and Benefit-Sharing Practices in Australian Wind Farm Development.
Case Studies in the Environment is a journal of peer-reviewed case-study articles, case-study pedagogy articles, and a repository for editor-reviewed case-study slides. The journal informs faculty, students, educators, professionals, and policymakers on case studies and best practices in the environmental sciences and studies.