Challenging formal arrangements and decision-making in the energy sector
Location Bowland Hall Main Room
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 3


  • Shannon Spruit (Delft University of Technology) email
  • Olivier Ejderyan (ETH Zurich) email

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Short abstract

This panel seeks to discuss on what grounds and how formal decision-making processes about energy projects and energy infrastructures get contested. It investigates how such contestations and their responses contribute to reconfiguring traditional conceptions of formal and informal decision-making.

Long abstract

Planning and implementation of new energy technologies and infrastructures is often characterized by high levels of institutionalization and formalization. Such decisions are grounded in procedures and guidelines which are part of legally established governance structures that aim to evaluate the desirability of energy projects.

However, these structures and procedures do not always cover the wide range of meanings, concerns and values that an energy project puts at stake for different stakeholders. For instance, a strong techno-juridical focus on risks and safety in the formal assessment of energy projects may downplay other moral considerations.

Consequently, the legitimacy and adequacy of formal arrangements can be challenged. For instance, local activism may arise through which citizens confront the way values are expressed, made tangible and operationalized in the process. Governmental agencies may react to such challenges by either reasserting the primacy of formal decision-making channels or opening it up to the public.

On what grounds and how are formal decisions about energy technologies and infrastructures contested? How does this affect those engaged in controversies about them? Furthermore, contestation contributes to the blurring of boundaries between formal and informal forms of governance. How to understand the dynamic between formal and informal forms of governance?

To address these questions, we invite papers discussing:

-Practices of opposition to formal decision-making in energy (e.g. political, activist, epistemic struggles).

-Interactions between formal and informal forms of governance (and/or challenges to such a distinction).

-Citizen engagement, legal and regulatory experiments, and their relation to representative democracy.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


New roles, actors and strategies seeking to influence Finnish energy policy

Authors: Kamilla Karhunmaa (Helsinki University ) email
Laura Kainiemi (Aalto University) email
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Short abstract

This article assesses energy policy actors' evaluations of their own role in influencing energy policy in Finland. We focus on how actors attempt to develop legitimacy for specific concerns; mobilize resources to pursue their own goals; and how they evaluate their own success in such processes.

Long abstract

Energy policy in Finland has historically been negotiated in a consensus-seeking fashion, with industrial interests playing a significant role in the development of nuclear energy and bioenergy. The 2010s, however, have seen a heightened interest from environmental organizations, academics and citizen campaigns to open energy policy processes. Partly in response, novel processes such as online consultations and workshops have been conducted by the responsible ministries. This article focuses on the range of formal and informal avenues actors' employ to influence energy policy and transitions in Finland. We are particularly interested in actors' evaluations and perceptions of their own role, and what issues are raised as successes. This includes assessing how actors attempt to develop legitimacy for specific concerns; mobilize resources to forward their own goals; and how they evaluate their own success in such processes. The analysis is based on documents and interviews gathered in Finland during 2016-2017 with environmental NGOs, energy industry groups, ministry representatives, politicians and academics. Preliminary results indicate a broad-ranging consensus on an ideal energy system as emissions-free. However, there are significant differences regarding how this should be achieved and what actually constitutes as "emissions-free". Attempts to open up policy negotiation processes are criticized as insufficient, with traditionally powerful industrial interests continuing to play a significant role. New actors employ a number of strategies aimed at modifying or radically changing the existing energy system and tend to focus on symbolic successes in policy struggles.

Social conflicts in energy projects: exploring differences in moral appraisals through the lens of epistemic cultures

Authors: Shannon Spruit (Delft University of Technology) email
Eefje Cuppen (Delft University of Technology) email
Elisabeth van de Grift (Delft University of Technology) email
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Short abstract

Energy projects often encounter fierce opposition, such social conflicts depict a difference in normative appraisal of the project. In this paper we explore the mechanisms and structures that bring about differences in moral appraisals of energy projects through the lens of 'epistemic cultures'.

Long abstract

Decision-making procedures concerning the implementation of energy technologies and energy infrastructures in the Netherlands are characterized by a high level of institutionalization. Formal assessment methods such as environmental impact assessment are used to evaluate and ascertain formally established public values, associated with safety, health and economy. As such they provide a normative appraisal of the (future) energy project.

Energy projects often encounter fierce opposition. In the Netherlands, local activism is observed with respect to fossil fuel extraction (conventional and unconventional) as well as renewables (wind and solar). Social conflicts that arise locally can be seen as a form of self-organised participation (Cuppen 2018) and often depict a difference in normative appraisal of the project between formal and public actors challenging the legitimacy of formal assessments and decisions made.

In this paper we explore the mechanisms and structures that bring about differences in moral appraisals of energy projects. We scrutinize the social conflicts that emerge in the planning of a large scale on onshore wind farm in the Netherlands through the lens of 'epistemic cultures' (Knorr-Cetina 1999); Are differences in moral appraisals the outcome of differences in the knowledge practices that create and warrant knowledge? For instance, formal/governmental epistemic cultures are often expert-driven, characterized by technocratic and legal language, and generalizable indicators. Public appraisals, however, involve a variety of public actors, personal stories and are situational.

Recognizing differences in epistemic cultures may help creating and/or identifying opportunities for fostering mutual understanding and moral learning between decision-makers and local communities.

How to organize stakeholders involvement in regulating technological issues? An argument for controversies-thinking

Author: Lonneke Poort (Eramus School of Law) email
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Short abstract

This paper discusses the failures of opening up decisionmaking for stakeholders.Stakeholders-involvement can only be successful if it is clear what problem is and what expectations are.I explore the impact of controversies-thinking in decisionmaking on the organization of stakeholders-involvement.

Long abstract

Similar to the energy sector, formal decision-making on biotechnology struggles with challenges caused by the intractability of the problem. Whereas formal decision-making on genetic modification is strictly focused on safety and risks, in reality other (societal and moral) considerations are (still) being part of the problem. In dealing with this, the tendency in regulatory practice exists to open up formal decision-making for stakeholders or the broader public. However, in the field of biotechnology, these attempts are hardly successful. This paper discusses the failures of these attempts. I state that stakeholders involvement can only be successful if it is clear what the problem is, which methods to use for which goals and what the expectations of all stakeholders are. In earlier work, I criticized the strong focus on consensus in decision-making and argued for an ethos of controversies in which the diverging viewpoints, values and argument should have a more central role in problem-definition. In this paper, I take this argument to a next level and explore the impact of controversies-thinking in decision-making on the organization of stakeholders involvement. How to give room to diverging expectations of stakeholders involvement and conflicting agenda's? How can we deal with diverging viewpoints on the methods to use? I argue that involvement may be more successful if we are not focusing on commonalities in goals and expectations, but, instead, if we are open and clear about the differences and challenge each other on our viewpoints and motives in doing so.

Co-producing knowledge and publics amidst controversy: analysis of an EU expert network on unconventional hydrocarbons development

Authors: Leonie Reins (Tilburg University) email
Kärg Kama (University of Birmingham) email
Aleksandra Lis (Adam Mickiewicz University) email
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Short abstract

This paper engages with the idiom of co-production and provides a more fine-grained understanding of processes through which authoritative knowledge claims and new publics are co-produced in the context of a highly politicized controversy over exploration of unconventional hydrocarbons.

Long abstract

To date, social sciences have devoted remarkably little attention to processes of co-production related to shale gas and shale oil extraction. More critically, there is little analysis of the challenges of creating and formulating knowledge that would resonate as relevant, useful and authoritative for practices of various actors, such as industry experts, government officials, civil society activists and local communities; and as such would co-produce different scales at which shale gas could be governed.

In this paper, we examine a particular EU-led experiment, the European Science and Technology Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction, in producing expert knowledge on shale energy development amidst heated controversy, by exploring the idiom of co-production with conceptual insights from across Anthropology, Geography, Law, and Social Studies of Science and Technology. Drawing on our first-hand observations as expert participants representing the social sciences, this paper provides an in-depth ethnographic account of the UH-Network by reporting on its history and initial progress made over the first year of its three years of intended activity. We explain why it proved so difficult for the EU authorities to channel knowledge production into a set of credible, widely applicable knowledge claims, with the result that only particular, very limited types of knowledge claims were stabilized as facts and data before the network was prematurely closed down in early 2016 amidst escalating controversy. Our analysis thereby also seeks to understand why the UH-Network failed to both become an "epistemic authority" and deliver meaningful deliberation and participation for so many involved actors.

Impacts of the fossil fuel divestment movement

Authors: Noam Bergman (University of Sussex) email
Tim Foxon (University of Sussex) email
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Short abstract

The fossil fuel divestment movement has had strong indirect impacts on the financial world. Interviews suggest even its critics acknowledge it has changed public discourse and raised the profile of the stranded assets problem, inspired shareholder activism, and strengthened the climate movement.

Long abstract

The Divestment movement calls for removing investments from fossil fuel companies. Divestment is an international network of local groups and activists, often student organisations. We consider the impact of this movement through literature review and interviews with activists, financial and institutional actors.

The direct impacts of divested funds have been too small to seriously impact the fossil fuel industry. However, Divestment's indirect effects are more profound, changing discourse around climate change mitigation. Divestment has reduced the moral and political legitimacy of the industry, and successfully questioned its longer-term stability, putting fossil fuel companies on the defensive with the 'stranded assets' discourse.

Interviewees said Divestment offered action, something people could do about climate change beyond changing individual behaviour, both for student activists, swelling the climate movement's numbers, but also for mainstream, concerned investors. Student activists were seen as naive by institutional and financial actors. Activist interviews suggest a mix, with some believing the simplistic logic of direct impact from divestment, and others seeing it as a tool for reframing discourse.

Divestment has raised the question of how to engage with decision making on energy investments. Many of its critics argue against the movement's blunt tactics, yet still acknowledge its influence on public discourse. The financial world is changing, with concepts like 'fiduciary duty' evolving to consider longer-term interests. While the Divestment movement certainly cannot take full credit for such changes, it has undoubtedly inspired shareholder activism and played a part in this cultural shift.

Challenging water-energy governance: the mega-hydropower project in Río Marañón and its contestation

Authors: Rocio Juliana Herrera (Karlsruher Institut für Technologie) email
Alena Israel (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) email
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Short abstract

This paper argues that Political Ecology and Energy Justice are suitable frameworks for analysing hydropower projects. It focus on the analysis of energy governance and the underlying formal and informal driving and contesting forces in the water-energy governance of the river Marañón in Perú.

Long abstract

Hydropower projects are more than energy policies. They are also a decision about water and land uses affecting a variety of actors. Hence, the prioritisation of energy generation leads to conflicts.

Political Ecology and Energy Justice are suitable analytical and theoretical frameworks for analysing hydropower projects and its wide range of underlying meanings and conflict potential.

Political Ecology and its explicit consideration of power relations in environmental issues allows capturing the complexity of actors, interests and power struggles related to hydropower projects.

Energy Justice enables to conceptualise justice dimensions of energy projects, including procedural, distributional and recognition justice concerns.

The paper focus on the analysis of energy governance configurations and the underlying formal and informal driving and contesting forces. It depicts the complex interplays in the water-energy governance of the river Marañón in Perú, where the projected construction of 20 large hydropower plants evokes both, hopes and resistance.

An empirical study in 2016/2017, where semi-structured interviews were done, analyses actors, institutions and regulations of the Marañón hydropower project, focusing on the perceptions, interests and resources. International and national institutions perceive the river as an economic resource and prioritize energy needs disregarding environmental impacts and the interests of local communities.

The paper discuss the challenges for governance configurations in the energy sector regarding two key ideas. First, the necessity of considering the interdisciplinary nature of energy policies. Second, the opportunities of incorporating the procedural and recognition energy justice concepts in public policy making in order to enhance the democratic discussion.

Citizen stakeholder's visions of monitoring strategies in nuclear waste disposal sites: an inquiry into the political life of a 'counter-imaginary'

Authors: Axelle Meyermans (Universiteit Antwerpen) email
Pieter Cools (Universiteit Antwerpen) email
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Short abstract

Confronted with diverging visions on the future of repository monitoring in geological disposal, this paper assesses the various dynamics at play in the 'opening up' and 'closing down' of this debate by relating this discussion to considerations of materiality and power.

Long abstract

The IAEA (2014) emphasizes that monitoring activities are necessary in each phase of a geological disposal facility for nuclear waste, furthermore recognizing its potential as a confidence building tool towards the public. Nevertheless, imaginaries concerning the purpose of monitoring strategies vary between expert conceptualizations of monitoring as confirming long-term predictions stated in their safety case, and local citizens who stress the enduring risk of not-knowing the long-term future and therefore oppose this conception by creating a 'counter-imaginary' of monitoring as a means of checking the supposed safety of the repository (Bergmans et al., 2014). Drawing from fieldwork conducted in a transdisciplinary EU-project on repository monitoring, I argue that this stakeholder imaginary of 'monitoring as vigilance' is not only intrinsically related to diverging approaches of dealing with future uncertainty, but also interferes with further (political) concerns of transparency and democratic decision-making with regards to nuclear waste management. Whilst the EU-project has expressed the intention to 'open up' the development of monitoring to these stakeholder concerns, a meaningful politicization of the debate is subtly 'closed down' (Stirling, 2008). This occurs in a public participation space where future visions are at play in both discursive and material terms. Looking beyond traditional notions of power differentials in decision-making between experts and lay people, I draw from authors such as Tutton (2017) and Groves (2017) to unpack how the materiality of monitoring's ongoing research and development becomes enacted upon different actor's imaginations of a wicked future, potentially locking in specific political choices in public engineering projects such as geological disposal.

Energy regulators as mediators or managers? A case study in South Africa

Author: David Walwyn (University of Pretoria) email
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Short abstract

Energy regulators can play an essential role within national energy systems. In South Africa, the national regulator has implemented consultative processes to solicit public debate on pricing and other issues. However this role can be highly conflicted, as will be debated in the paper.

Long abstract

Energy planning in South Africa is guided by the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which is developed by Government through a consultative process. Implementation of the plan is managed by the Department of Energy and the National Energy Regulator, where the latter provides operating licenses for energy producers within its overall mandate. In this paper, the overall architecture of energy planning and management will be presented, followed by a critique of the specific role of the regulator, which seeks to balance the direct interests government and the national utility company against the broader needs of other actors within the national energy system, including those of the renewable independent power producers. Based on interviews with representatives from the public and private sectors, the paper will consider the role of the regulator in providing a forum for a more open process in energy decision making, and whether this role has been truly consultative. A case study approach will be followed, with the objective being to determine whether such bodies can be an effective part of a more legitimate arrangement for formalised decision making on energy projects. In particular, the interaction between the IRP and the regulator will be analysed in order to understand how power is distributed between the administrative and the legislative arms of Government.

How procedural fairness influences the formation of willingness to cooperate in Switzerland's energy transition

Authors: Agnes Harms (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research) email
Tobias Schulz (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research) email
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Short abstract

Cooperation in informal participatory processes enables formal approval procedures to be implemented more efficiently. We investigate how participants willingness to cooperate arise in informal processes. We find that cooperativeness depends on fair process performance and the level of involvement.

Long abstract

Informal public participation strengthens the increased need for coordination of interests of stakeholders and private persons affected by the expansion of energy infrastructure projects. In Switzerland, informal participatory processes take place prior to formal democratic co-determination. Although the Swiss public certainly has ample possibilities to influence energy projects due to approval procedures, municipal assemblies and referenda, an increase in these new participation formats can be observed. In these previously implemented informal processes, reconciling various interests and finding a common solution are sought.

In order to accelerate the implementation of energy projects in formal approval procedures, the cooperation between participants and project leaders in the informal process is advantageous. Whereas the formal procedures are clearly defined in law and ordinances, there are no fixed rules in the informal processes that specify who, how and when should be included. Focusing on procedural fairness as essential feature of these informal processes, we investigate how participants` willingness to cooperate with project leaders changes over the time of a participatory process.

This paper reports about a longitudinal study with participants in eight informal participatory processes of recent wind and hydropower projects with 156 observations in total. The analysis aims to track the effect of procedural fairness on people's willingness to cooperate over time, taking into account trust in leadership and the expectations of social outcomes. We find that the fair process effect varies depending on the level of participants` involvement.

Critical challenges to theorising public engagement with the design and deployment of hybrid forums: empirical evidence from Waste-to-Energy contestation in Wales

Authors: Nick Hacking (Cardiff University) email
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Short abstract

Energy-from-Waste governance is highly contested with particular concerns over technologies and health risk. A comparative analysis of two highly constrained hybrid forums offers new explanations for the gulf between aspirations for public engagement and the reality of outcomes on the ground.

Long abstract

The democratization of knowledge production in terms of science, technology, the environment and other objects of governmental action is a major societal challenge. Efforts have focused on breaking down divisions between specialists and laypersons and institutional representatives and ordinary citizens through a variety of deliberative approaches involving different degrees of public engagement. Hybrid forums were developed as a normative framework in which proponents hope that professional expertise can be put aside and more open dialogue can take place. New ways of thinking, seeing, and acting should be developed, pooled, and made available. In this study, we critically examine these aspirations through an investigation of two highly contested hybrid forums for Energy-from-Waste incineration plants (in South Wales, UK). 'Liaison Committees' were created and run by the Environment Agency so communities could meet with the plants' operators. Our approach is distinctive because we use longitudinal mixed methods to contextualise local conflicts to better understand how those then shape the potentialities for hybrid forums. By combining 20 interviews with social network analysis (SNA) we reveal shifting asymmetric power relations between actor networks that undermine meaningful public engagement. In our analysis, these Liaison Committees have not been able to act as hybrid forums because participants are rooted in complex social settings which shape the content and conduct of meetings. We argue that at a theoretical level more attention should be given to the ways in which politics and power prevent meaningful engagement and how pursuing more responsible energy innovation involves upstream public technical deliberation.

On site public participation in the development of renewable energy installations

Author: Gerhard Fuchs (University of Stuttgart) email
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Short abstract

When asking the question whether and on what grounds formal decisions about energy technologies and infrastructures are contested, we have to adapt a relational view, distinguishing between spatial, social, temporal and material aspects.

Long abstract

The call for papers hints at the tension between between highly formalized decision making procedures especially in the "old" energy sector and a strong public interest in energy related issues among the public - at least in Germany.

The paper will look especially at developments in the electricity sector in Germany. This sector is interesting because a variety of new lines of conflict have emerged. A line of conflict between "old" incumbent actors (like network operators, big utilities) and citizen action groups battling decisions, line of conflict in which actors are engaged when attempting to change the institutional framework f local electricity system and when trying to gain new positions in this system. Lines of conflict also between citizens in favor and against specific siting decisions concerning renewable energies.

When asking the question whether and on what grounds formal decisions about energy technologies and infrastructures are contested, we have to adapt a relational view, distinguishing between spatial, social, temporal and material aspects. The paper will analyze four different types of conflicts in which the relationship between social, spatial, temporal and material aspects plays out differently: two conflicts about wind energy installations, one concerning grid extension and one involving a bio-mass installation

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.