Author: Mariëlle de Sain – sustainable energy adviser at Pondera Consult, guest member of the IEA (International Energy Agency) Task 28 on Social acceptance of wind energy (1)
For more information on participation and environmental management: Attend the session entitled Stakeholder engagement: the Dutch approach. Location: Wind days 2016, Rotterdam Hall, 11:15 on 16 June. Entry granted with Wind Days conference ticket
We also look forward to seeing you at the Pondera Consult/Wind Minds stand (no. 28) on the exhibition floor during the Wind Days.
Participation is a much-used word when it comes to sustainable energy projects, wind energy in particular. The Dutch Code of Conduct regarding onshore wind energy acceptance and participation, signed in September 2014, was an important milestone in shaping these efforts.(2) During evaluation(3) of the Code of Conduct, however, several critical comments have been made. For some observers, the Code is completely self-evident and should be expanded; for other parties, it serves primarily as an introduction to new participants and requires a change in current approach. Practical application has proven difficult: how does one implement the Code of Conduct and the various guidelines anyway? This article will explore the perspectives of two remarkable municipalities, each of which has a historical and future connection to wind energy: Goeree-Overflakkee and Almere.
What makes wind projects so special?
Wind energy projects are highly visible. They are literally visible for miles around, have visible effects on energy bills through the SDE+ subsidy and are visible in the political arena as well. Another obstacle is the lack of a sense of urgency among a fair share of the public. It is also difficult to identify with the projects personally – the construction of a new motorway is more tangible and close to home than sustainable energy or climate adaptation. This is reinforced by the primary focus on the negative effects of wind turbines and the fact that the chosen locations have largely already been determined. Erwin Lindeijer from the Municipality of Almere says that participation plays an important role in helping individuals develop a sense of ownership regarding the energy transition.
Core values in participation
The idea behind engaging in participation is to strike a balance between the advantages and disadvantages of a given project. In the case of wind energy, this means that a portion of the revenue must find its way into the local community. Lennard Seriese from the Municipality of Goeree-Overflakkee asserts that there is a need to actively seek out dialogue with the public, preferably on a wider range of topics than wind energy alone. Both municipalities have identified, based on best and less-best practices, a number of core values to serve as a basis for participation. These are: open communication as to what is and is not possible, ensuring that people have a choice, promoting availability of information and joint fact-finding. Erwin Lindeijer underscores these values with an example taken from a recent informational meeting regarding a project in Almere. With the aid of virtual reality, presenters created a prospective wind park complete with audio-visual effects. The experience was a positive one, as—in addition to answering questions—there was also opportunity for learning. After all, members of the public not only have concerns, they are curious as well.
|Key points of wind energy participation
A number of key points with regard to participation emerge in light of the Code of Conduct, the policy of both municipal authorities, the various guidelines (see sources) and past examples. The most important of these are: involvement of individuals and organisations at an early stage; establishing clear agreements and expectation for conduct; displaying professionalism (obviously); ensuring effective and transparent provision of information; allowing communities to exercise some form of choice; and lastly, tailoring solutions to circumstances. The precise application of these key points will depend strongly on the current phase of the project in question.The first modern wind turbines on Goeree-Overflakkee were constructed in 1990. The current configuration has a capacity of 78 MW and a number of procedures are under way for new projects or expansion. The agreement for 2020 is to have realised a configuration of 225 MW in wind energy capacity by that time. Goeree-Overflakkee has chosen to establish a broadly applicable Energy Fund which will be used to support various sustainability and liveability projects. The sustainable Energy Fund will be managed by an independent foundation. The concept involves distinguishing three separate zones. Zone 1 is a residents fund which will compensate residents living 900 metres or less from a project. Zone 2 is a fund for involved parties, to which project proposals may be submitted for within 5,000 metres of a wind turbine for projects involving sporting clubs, town councils, residents, musical societies, etc. Zone 3 is a transitional fund, to which proposals may be submitted for larger-scale projects within the municipal borders. This transitional fund will require 50% co-financing from initiators. The in the Code of Conduct mentioned rate of €0.005 per MWh will apply to wind energy, which is equivalent (in the case of 150 MW of newly constructed capacity) to deposits to the Energy fund totalling approximately €225,000 annually.
The current turbine configuration in the Municipality of Almere has a capacity of 37 MW and a number of spatial-planning procedures are under way for new projects or expansion. In 2015 the Municipality of Almere established the ‘Energy Works’ programme, which is aimed at accelerating the realisation of a renewable energy supply. This programme’s plan stipulates that, existing locations notwithstanding, there is space for a maximum of ten additional wind turbines in the area. In principle, these turbines may only be built if the initiative comes from the city itself and the participation of residents and businesses is assured. There is an additional criterion of endeavouring to maintain a distance of 1,500 metres from large-scale residential developments, in order to prevent any significant detriment to the value of the homes.
The role of any government, including local ones, is vital to the goal of sustainable energy because it is necessary to weigh the positive and negatives aspects of such a project carefully. According to Lennard Seriese, the ‘polder model’ works for affecting incremental changes. The energy transition with all its many facets, however, requires more radical decision-making. The transition must be set in motion from the bottom up – after which it becomes necessary to take things to the next level.
Municipal authorities have few direct, legally-binding instruments with which to enforce participation. Still, it is possible to guarantee participation through a number of instruments utilised in the plan development and realisation of wind energy projects: a letter of intent, environmental impact report, and agreements on financial participation, for example.
It has been the experience of both municipalities that designing possibilities for participation is a difficult task and that it is vital to firmly establish a number of principles at the beginning. Erwin Lindeijer: participation is a fluid process in which the aspects of communication, participation and consultation entwine, and all parties involved have their own ideas of what these concepts entail. This requires cooperation and an exchange of roles in accordance with each phase.
Desired future developments
The above illustrates that a need exists to incorporate participation into projects more effectively, in order to make it a lasting and useful instrument. Lennard Seriese asserts that a change in thinking is necessary in order to arrive at a social business case: ‘benefit’ involves more than mere profit. This change will require that all parties be prepared to listen more and invest in dialogue. Erwin Lindeijer adds that local initiative (in the form of energy cooperatives) must receive full-fledged, equal consideration in the process through support from other initiators and the province. At the same time, it is vital that the Dutch government reinforce its role in guiding general policy with regard to climate and energy: they must reiterate the overarching narrative of why sustainable energy is important, while making every effort to dispel myths.
Note from the author: for the purposes of this article, I interviewed Lennard Seriese from the Municipality of Goeree-Overflakkee (sustainability policy adviser) and Erwin Lindeijer from the Municipality of Almere (Energy planner). I want to extend them both my sincere thanks. This year I intend to explore a number of different perspectives concerning social engagement with wind energy in order to continue telling the story of participation between the industry, government and the public.
(2) NWEA (Netherlands Wind Energy Association), De Natuur- en Milieufederaties (The Nature and Environment Federations Foundation), Stichting Natuur & Milieu (Foundation for Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection), Greenpeace Netherlands, Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), and the ODE Decentraal organisation for sustainable energy, ‘Gedragscode draagvlak en participatie wind op land’, September 2014.
(3) NWEA et al, Evaluation of Dutch Code of Conduct regarding onshore wind energy acceptance and participation, March 2016.