Community Engagement in Wind Energy: Innovative approaches to achieving a social license (Co-Wind)
The 2018 SEAI National Energy Research Development & Demonstration (RD&D) Programme supported the UCC led Co-Wind project, which aims to better understand and improve community engagement with local wind farms in Ireland
- In a national survey conducted by the ‘Co-Wind’ project in 2021, over two-thirds of respondents said they would consider investing in a local wind farm if given the opportunity and almost half of respondents said an opportunity to buy shares in a wind farm would increase their willingness to agree to a turbine being located within 1km of their home.
- Shared revenue agreements tend to have a stronger positive effect on community residents’ acceptance of a local wind farm, compared to joint ventures, split ownership arrangements or wholly community-owned projects.
- Gaining social acceptance is difficult as convincing conditional supporters and non-supporters to take a more favourable stance requires different approaches.
- Familiarity, awareness, and lived experience of wind farms contributes to local acceptance.
About the Project and Aims
Social Acceptance is one of the key barriers to scaling up on-shore wind installation in Ireland and many other countries. The Community Engagement in Wind Energy, ‘Co-Wind’ project, funded by the 2018 SEAI National Energy Research, Development & Demonstration (RDD) Funding Programme, aims to better understand ways community engagement in wind energy can be improved to gain a better appreciation of the issues that underpin acceptance of wind energy developments and identify innovative approaches to achieving a social license. The project is led by Dr. Bernadette Power of the Department of Economics at UCC, through a partnership between additional researchers (Dr. Ryan, Dr. Eakins, Dr. O'Connor, Dr. Sirr and Ms. Le Maitre) and wind energy developer, Coillte. Research began in 2019 and will conclude in 2023 and the following areas are being explored:
- measures focused on meaningful community engagement
- public participation in decision making
- direct investment and co-ownership in projects by the public
- enhancing current practice by developers in establishing community benefit schemes
The project has found that in terms of Community Engagement to upscale developments, the encouragement of early, meaningful and ongoing engagement is important. It has proven to be more important than benefit sharing mechanisms and co-ownership or co-investment. There is a strong link between the quality of community engagement during planning and participatory planning with support for a local wind farm.
Various Benefit sharing mechanisms can positively impact the acceptance of local wind farms, including near neighbour payments, community benefit funds, contracts for local businesses during construction, the development of amenities in the local area and long-term jobs for local people. The research found that private household benefits tend to be more important for people to accept living in close proximity (1 km) to a wind turbine, compared to public or in-kind community benefits. In communities where there is a planned wind farm, most residents believe that both the €2/MWh community benefit fund contribution under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) and the minimum payment of €1,000 are too low. In relation to community benefit fund distribution, most respondents to a survey conducted by the project were satisfied with both the 10% max. funding allocation to administration costs and the 40% min. funding allocation to sustainability projects.
Community ownership/co-ownership arrangements tend to have a positive impact on local residents’ acceptance of wind farms. However, such arrangements are not a panacea for improving acceptance of planned wind farms among people who are opposed to the projects or among those who would live in close proximity. Initial findings highlight the importance of financial and technical assistance for enabling communities to participate in local wind farms. In this regard, it was found that citizens are generally only willing to invest low sums of money in local projects. In addition, few citizens are very willing to volunteer to help manage community owned/co-owned projects.
It is hard to change the minds of objectors thus examining set back distances and considering strategies to enable community engagement in planning, designing, and delivering projects would be helpful. Expanding the number of sustainable energy communities in wind designated areas to assist in changing attitudes to climate change and wind energy is important. Our research found that familiarity, awareness, and lived experience of wind farms contributes to local acceptance which is good news.
To achieve a just energy transition, responsible renewable energy development approaches and meaningful community engagement are crucial. Research that identifies best practices to build partnerships as well as renewable energy capacity and create a positive future for communities in Ireland is essential to reach our 2030 energy targets.
Outputs to date
- Surveys were carried out with representative samples of citizens in Ireland and communities living close to wind farms in planning, construction and operation phases. Researchers also held discussions with developers.
- The Co-Wind project has maintained a map of every wind turbine location across Ireland with households that are located within one kilometre of every new turbine.
- Surveys have been conducted prior to and after the implementation of the RESS community measures, among local communities, to gauge the level of support for renewables in communities’ local areas.
- Survey results taken from 2,037 households across Ireland have shown the expansion of wind and solar PV projects have enjoyed high levels of public support. The households cover those who live in close proximity to projects as well as those more dispersed geographically.
- For community ownership/co-ownership to be financially viable in smaller communities, investment would likely be needed from citizens outside of the local area in order to raise sufficient equity capital. Findings suggest that non-local investors would likely provide higher levels of equity finance if they had the opportunity to invest in portfolios of wind farms as opposed to individual projects.
A snapshot of survey results from the project, detailed in the table above, reveal how opposition to a local, planned wind farm was highest at the planning stage with 32% stating they are opposed to a planned wind farm in their area, however this was lower than half the level of support for a local, planned wind farm at the same stage and opposition decreased further as development moved to the next stages.
Full results from the project will be available later in 2023.
What's Next for the Project?
With the Co-Wind project concluding this year, the final research findings could have important policy implications for onshore wind energy development. This could support the adoption of measures for improved collaboration and co-development opportunities and work towards the attainment of the Climate Action Plan targets for renewable energy generation by 2030.
Interested in SEAI energy research funding? To find out more about SEAI Research Development and Demonstration supports click here.
Please find below further outputs and information relating to this project:
- Research Paper - An analysis of the factors affecting Irish citizens’ willingness to invest in wind energy projects
- Research Paper - Empowering onshore wind energy: A national choice experiment on financial benefits and citizen participation
- Conference Recording - Preliminary findings from a community survey presented at the SEAI National Energy Research and Policy Conference 2022: Societal Transformation
- Media Coverage - RTÉ Brainstorm, July 2022 - Can community-owned wind farms help achieve economic freedom?
- Project Factsheet