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Past experiences shape communities’ responses to Renewable Energy Infrastructures

In this article, researchers Sophia Küpers and Susana Batel from the Centre for Psychological Research and Social Intervention (CIS-Iscte) explored communities’ responses and relations to renewable energy projects and how they are influenced by local context, history, and the experience of time.

© 2023 Sophia Küpers | Parque Eólico do Alto Minho I | CIS-Iscte

The local context and history in which renewable energy technologies (RETs), such as wind turbines or photovoltaic panels, are deployed can significantly impact people's acceptance of these projects. According to Sophia Küpers, the first author of this paper and a doctoral student at Iscte,

"People-place relations and the disruption thereof have been identified as one important factor shaping people's relations to RET projects, and peoples' past experience shapes these relations. How people perceive time and what meaning they attribute to it, is also crucial in shaping their responses to RET projects.”

Susana Batel, Küpers’ supervisor, adds, “Applying a socio-historical approach to people's meaning-making of RETs will foster further critical examination of how people's responses to RET projects fit into the broader picture”, this is, into how RET projects are deployed, at what socio-environmental cost, and which interests they serve.

Indeed, this work proposes a framework that considers socio-historical factors in the social acceptance research of RETs, which may inform future research exploring people’s relations to such technologies. But how can the experience of time affect people’s relationship with RET? Küpers explains that “immediate temporal dynamics surrounding the deployment of RETs, such as the timeline of RET project planning, how long it takes to construct the infrastructure and the immediately visible impacts on the local environment, will affect how residents respond to it.” This is related to the concept of “physical time.” The researchers go further by also considering the “historical time,” a concept that comprises the broader historical context and influences on community responses to RET, from past events (that may even be unrelated to energy infrastructures) and experiences, of injustice with their related psychosocial impacts; to past media narratives: “such experiences may be transported across time and be transformed into history through collective and individual memories and contribute to shaping responses to current RET projects,” Küpers elaborates.

The researchers argue that a more nuanced understanding of temporality can help to address the complex social, cultural, and historical factors that shape communities’ responses to RETs and suggest that future research should focus on developing context-specific and participatory approaches. The ultimate goal would be to inform policymakers, planners, and developers’ practices around renewable energy. “Developing effective policies and planning practices should consider communities' diverse experiences, their potential to contribute to successful projects as well as their concerns.”, they conclude.



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