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Citizen participation and the wind farm decision-making process: An exploratory case study on the current practice in Dutch municipalities

  • Geerts, Lucas F. (author)
Publication Date
Mar 06, 2020
TU Delft Repository
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Wind farms are one of the main means for sustainable energy supply in the Netherlands. In the period of 2013-2020 provincial governments were tasked with siting a certain number of megawatts of wind energy on their territory. This led to the development of wind farms in many Dutch municipalities, of which the decision-making process has in many cases recently finished. In this process, citizen participation played a large role. This thesis research provides an exploratory study on the influence of this practice, using the following research question: How does the current practice of citizen participation influence the decision-making process of wind farms in the Netherlands? To answer this question, three cases have been selected of wind farms where the decision-making process was recently completed: Weijerswold in Coevorden, Spui in Hoeksche Waard and Nij Hiddum-Houw in Súdwest-Fryslân. These cases are chosen as they are very diverse regarding the type of initiator, the citizens involvement and the role of the municipality. Literature and policy documents are studied, and interviews are held with policy-makers, wind farm developers, citizens and experts. For each case, the main groups of actors that most highly influence the decision-making process are described: provincial and municipal government, initiators of wind energy and participating and activist citizens. The division of citizens into these two groups is somewhat artificial, as in reality these groups are not so strictly distinct. It also is noted that citizens participating and representing other citizens can be difficult, as in every case there are also citizens who fiercely object to the entire participation process. <br/>All three cases are analysed and evaluated using the Rounds model of G.R. Teisman (2000). In this model, the activities of the different actors are described in different ‘rounds of decision-making’. It focusses on the interaction between actors, who can make decisions in varying combinations. This thesis includes case-specific graphical representations of the Rounds model. This has not been done before by other authors who applied this model, even though it is very suitable and adds clarity to the description in text: broad outlines are easier to visualise and cross-case analysis is simplified. The cases are also classified on Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation, the most used academic reference for classification by influence. On this ladder, the current practice of citizen participation can best be described as placation or partnership, depending on the specific case. It is hereby noted that this influence is not the only valid measurement by which to assess a citizen participation process. Furthermore, six factors of influence are determined, which each have their own influence on the decision-making process. The analysis shows that municipalities especially take on very different roles in the process, ranging from full opposition of the proposed wind farm to organising the participation process. They are not forced into either position, but decide for themselves. Furthermore, government shapes the participation process, regardless of whether this is the province or the municipality. They determine the first four factors: the timeliness of citizen involvement, the flexibility of the government process framework, the diversity of the citizen board composition and the degree of decision options in the citizen board. The timeliness is one of the most mentioned issues: in all the cases, the decision for a number of megawatts had already been made before the citizen participation process in the form of a citizen board started. The flexibility of the process is an issue when citizens want to organise the process somewhat differently, or need more time to make decisions and inform the other citizens than initially envisioned. Regarding the citizen board composition, there are cases where only nearby residents are represented and ones where there are also many other societal groups, both having different advantages. When it comes to the degree of options, it is also a question of perception to how open the options really still are. Furthermore, the attitude of the initiators is of great importance in the participation process, as is described regarding the fifth factor: the initiator’s relative willingness to extra-legal concessions. What they have to do is not completely legally determined, so this willingness to make concessions that they are not strictly obliged to also influences the influence of citizens in the participation process. The sixth factor is the experienced legitimacy of the participation process and its outcome. This experienced legitimacy is influenced by the other factors, but action committees can also have a large influence on this, as is illustrated clearly in the Spui case. In general, it is very important that citizens are put in such a position that they can have influence. This includes, for example, that they are assisted by an expert. When the right conditions are created, citizens can have real influence on the outcome of the process, ranging from the exact location of the wind turbines to financial compensation. However, their influence on the process itself is usually very limited: government, and to a lesser extent initiators, should provide the boundaries in which citizen participation can be executed well. Another conclusion is that the current legal framework is insufficient to secure a well-designed citizen participation process. This is illustrated by the wide variety of methods of organising this process in the different cases and mentioned by multiple interviewees. Research from a legal perspective is therefore also of vital importance. / Engineering and Policy Analysis (EPA)

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