The Energy Values Lab in the Department of Community Sustainability (CSUS) at Michigan State University seeks one highly motivated PhD student to begin study in Spring or Fall 2022 and assist with a new research project focusing on community-centered large-scale solar development in the US. This project will involve conducting case studies and interviews in existing large-scale solar communities, assisting with surveys, classifying large-scale solar sites, and analyzing and disseminating data. The research will be both quantitative and qualitative and will incorporate a community-based participatory research (CBPR) and structured decision-making (SDM) approach.
CSUS is an interdisciplinary department that addresses contemporary issues of sustainability in agriculture, recreation, natural resources, energy, and the environment. Consistent with its mission to assist in the development of sustainable communities, the department offers offers two graduate majors: Community Sustainability (MS and PhD) and Sustainable Tourism and Protected Areas Management (MS and PhD). In both graduate programs, CSUS embraces international as well as domestic applications, engagement, and opportunities.
Moving toward a sustainable global society requires substantial change in both social and technological systems. This sustainability is dependent not only on addressing the environmental impacts of current social and technological systems, but also on addressing the social, economic and political harms that continue to be perpetuated through systematic forms of oppression and the exclusion of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. To adequately identify and address these harms, we argue that scientists, practitioners, and communities need a transdisciplinary framework that integrates multiple types of knowledge, in particular, Indigenous and experiential knowledge. Indigenous knowledge systems embrace relationality and reciprocity rather than extraction and oppression, and experiential knowledge grounds transition priorities in lived experiences rather than expert assessments. Here, we demonstrate how an Indigenous, experiential, and community-based participatory framework for understanding and advancing socio-technological system transitions can facilitate the co-design and co-development of community-owned energy systems.
Prepared for the Michigan Energy Office Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy
This report identifies the most commonly mentioned values, benefits, and concerns associated with utility-scale wind and solar development projects, as identified over the course of a 3-month pilot project in the State of Michigan (MI). Bessette and DePew attended 11 public meetings and conducted an in-depth content analysis of over 200 print and online Michigan news media articles associated with wind or solar development in the state. As such, the values and beliefs reported here are associated specifically with 11 solar projects and 16 wind projects1, each at different stages of development across the state. While all of the public meetings we attended occurred during the Summer of 2019—with the exception of one meeting for which we reviewed its transcript (in Kent County: 4/23/19), the news articles reported on here predominantly span the last two years (2018-2019). Due to the short duration of this project, the results described herein are not intended to be representative, but are instead intended to serve as a meaningful sample of the values and concerns held by residents experiencing wind and solar farm development in their communities.
It is our recommendation that efforts be taken to meaningfully address the values and concerns reported on here in current and future wind and solar development processes in Michigan. In particular, we recommend translating these results into a community-specific and resident-focused guidebook entitled, “What you need to know about wind and/or solar development in your community.” Such a guidebook could be made available online or for print and distribution at public meetings or by local officials and renewable developers.
Addressing these concerns may be especially important in MI as development of utility-scale wind and solar energy systems is often quite contentious, perhaps more so than in other Midwestern states. At public meetings, across social media, and in the popular press, MI residents and representatives often laud renewables as a panacea or stamp them as a menace. Often these arguments are informed by or speak directly to individuals’ deeply held values, beliefs, and fears about either renewable energy in general or the specific impacts that may be associated with local projects.
These values and concerns are sometimes informed by, but not always supported by, the results of technical analyses or economic projections. This type of affect-rich, heavily value- laden, debate is not uncommon in the public policy sphere and is critical for unearthing and articulating individuals’ and communities’ most important values and objectives (Arvai, Gregory et al. 2012). A rigorous accounting of these articulated values ultimately allows for a more accurate and explicit analysis of tradeoffs, and hopefully more value-focused and value- consistent policy development and decision-making processes (Bessette, Wilson et al. 2019).
Using the psychometric paradigm of risk in conjunction with surveys of the Michigan public (n = 638) and a regional planning organization (n = 65), we examine the perceived risk and concerns associated with underwater oil pipelines, the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline in particular, and oil spills under ice. The fate of Line 5 is heavily debated in Michigan, specifically the portion that traverses the Straits of Mackinac, which can be ice-covered for months. Scant literature examines how individuals perceive the risk associated with Line 5, its alternatives, or potential spills in open water or under ice. Here we identify considerable concern regarding both the pipeline and the potential for spills under ice on behalf of the public, and increased concern about spills under ice on behalf of the planning organization. Organization members’ concerns are significantly predicted by beliefs about the difficulty in remediating spills, however not by beliefs about spills’ likelihood, difficulty in detection, noticeability, or consequences. Our results identify the need to better examine and communicate the risks associated with underwater pipelines and spills, both in open water and under ice, as well as options for remediating oil captured under ice. Furthermore, we recommend the adoption of decision-making and risk governance processes that explicitly expand analysis of the social, economic and environmental tradeoffs of underwater pipelines such as Line 5.
Utility-scale wind energy is now the largest source of renewable electricity in the US. Wind energy’s continued growth remains contingent upon finding adequate resource potential and transmission capacity, along with communities willing to host turbines. While previous research on the social acceptance of wind has relied predominantly on case studies, resident surveys, and reviews of development practices and strategies, here we use a new method. We use a wind contention survey of energy professionals (n = 46) to assess the contention associated with 69 existing wind farms in four US Midwest states and identify underlying characteristics, i.e., agricultural, land-use, and demographic characteristics, that may have predisposed communities to either support or oppose wind farm development. We then use publicly available data to parameterize and model those characteristics using wind farm contention as our dependent variable. Our analysis shows that a greater proportion of production-oriented farming and fewer natural amenities in a community are associated with reduced opposition to wind farm development. Additionally, and perhaps counterintuitively, communities with a greater percentage of residents that voted Republican in the 2016 Presidential election demonstrate less opposition. Rather than negating the need for employing best practices in community engagement, stakeholder development, and participatory decision-making processes, this study can help prepare developers for the type of reception that might await them in potential host communities.
In addition to evaluating the economic, ecological, and health impacts of major public policy initiatives, impact assessments typically also need to identify and evaluate an action’s social and cultural (S/C) impacts. A wide range of S/C metrics have been suggested, and guidelines exist to help ensure their thoughtful and comprehensive development. Nevertheless, many of the S/C concerns identified as part of impact assessments remain vague, are difficult to measure or understand, and are more closely attuned to existing data than to concerns expressed by stakeholders or residents of Indigenous communities. Furthermore, S/C impacts are often deemphasized or, in some cases, outright ignored during project generation and as part of final decisions made by elected officials. Here, we examine the promise of well-designed S/C metrics and contrast it with the reality of how they are commonly deployed, with specific reference to four case studies in North America: municipal planning decisions in Oregon, wildlife decisions in Ohio, renewable energy decisions in Michigan, and pipeline decisions in the western United States and Canada. We argue the importance of moving beyond assessment to decision making, pointing out five reasons why critical S/C impacts are often neglected, and presenting recommendations for the design of clearer, more comprehensive metrics that will contribute to more socially responsive policy choices.
For more visit Ecology & Society; our paper is open-access.
The global COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a justice crisis. It also brings to light multiple ongoing, underlying social crises. The COVID-19 crisis is actively revealing crises of energy sovereignty in at least four ways. First, there are many whose access to basic health services is compromised because of the lack of energy services necessary to provide these services. Second, some people are more vulnerable to COVID- 19 because of exposure to environmental pollution associated with energy production. Third, energy services are vital to human wellbeing, yet access to energy services is largely organized as a consumer good. The loss of stable income precipitated by COVID-19 may therefore mean that many lose reliable access to essential energy services. Fourth, the COVID-19 crisis has created a window of opportunity for corporate interests to engage in aggressive pursuit of energy agendas that perpetuate carbon intensive and corporate controlled energy systems, which illuminates the ongoing procedural injustices of energy decision making. These four related crises demonstrate why energy sovereignty is essential for a just energy future. Energy sovereignty is defined as the right for communities, rather than corporate interests, to control access to and decision making regarding the sources, scales, and forms of ownership characterizing access to energy services. Energy sovereignty is a critical com- ponent in the design of a post-COVID-19 energy system that is capable of being resilient to future shocks without exacerbating injustices that are killing the most vulnerable among us.