Beyond nimbyism public engagement with renewable energy
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Beyond Nimbyism: Public engagement with renewable energy. Dr. Patrick Devine-Wright St. Andrews University May 6th 2009. Summary. The ‘Beyond Nimbyism’ research project Key findings Looking across the case studies Gwynt y Mor offshore wind farm Conclusions. Beyond Nimbyism project.

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Beyond nimbyism public engagement with renewable energy

Beyond Nimbyism: Public engagement with renewable energy

Dr. Patrick Devine-Wright

St. Andrews University

May 6th 2009



  • The ‘Beyond Nimbyism’ research project

  • Key findings

    • Looking across the case studies

    • Gwynt y Mor offshore wind farm

  • Conclusions

Beyond nimbyism project

Beyond Nimbyism project

  • Six UK Universities (Lancaster, Loughborough, Manchester, Northumbria, Strathclyde and Surrey)

  • Multidisciplinary team drawn from Psychology, Geography, Political Science, Sociology and Engineering

  • Aim to deepen understanding of public responses to renewable energy technologies

  • Focus upon public engagement, since many experts have claimed that more or better engagement is key to increasing public acceptance

  • ‘Beyond Nimbyism’ title reflects the fact that many social scientists have been critical of the use of this term to describe or explain public opposition

Work streams

Work streams

  • Literature review

  • Conceptions of publics and public engagement

    • Interview study: technology trajectories and conceptions of public engagement

    • Media analysis: Representations of RETs

  • Development of a new conceptual framework

  • 8 case studies of specific projects

Our approach to researching public engagement

Our approach to researching ‘public engagement’

  • The outcome of the interaction between two processes:

    • How industry and policy actors conceive and engage with diverse publics

    • How local residents conceive and respond to a) specific projects and b) the engagement activities undertaken during those projects by developers and other organisations

Beyond nimbyism public engagement with renewable energy

engagement strategies and approaches

engagement actions

media reports



public actors in places

RE actors in networks






expectations of projects and process

expectations of the public

Beyond nimbyism public engagement with renewable energy

Our 8 case study locations

In each case

In each case …..

  • Standardised methodological approach

    • In-depth interviews with key stakeholders

    • Focus group discussions with local residents

    • Questionnaire survey of local residents

  • Bespoke tools designed by the project team

  • Developed standard coding frame for analysis of qualitative data using MaxQDA

  • This allows us to make comparisons across case studies and sectors

Summary of participants

Summary of participants

  • 71 stakeholders were interviewed

  • 249 residents took part in focus group discussions

  • 2911 residents completed our questionnaire survey

  • 3251 people participated in the project

Analysis across the case studies

Analysis across the case studies

  • Putting the NIMBY concept to the test

  • That those who oppose:

    • believe ‘renewable energy is a good idea, just not in their back yard’

    • incomers to the area

    • those living closest to the site

    • older people



  • Only 2% of our sample (61 people out of 2674) strongly supported renewable energy generally but strongly opposed the project in their local area

  • Our analyses found no relation between people’s support for a project and their

    • length of residence in the area

    • perceived proximity of home to the project site

    • age

    • gender

    • education level

  • Lack of support for the ‘NIMBY’ idea

Gwynt y mor

Gwynt y Mor

  • Offshore wind farm

  • 750 MW: 200+ turbines, 13km distant from the shore

  • npower Renewables - third project in the area, after North Hoyle (2004, 60MW, 30 turbines) and Rhyl Flats (in construction, 90mw, 25 turbines)

Project trajectory

Project trajectory

  • From late 2004, developer began public engagement across the North Wales coast using a variety of consultation methods, repeated in late 2005 at time of submission of application

  • November 2005: planning application submitted by developer

  • February 2006: objections by statutory consultees, including local authority

  • ‘Save our Scenery’ action group set up to oppose the project; ‘Sustainable Energy Alliance’ set up to support the project

  • August 2007: revisions to planning application submitted by the developer

  • November 2007: developer announced a community benefit offer

  • March 2008: SOS submits request for public inquiry to Welsh Assembly

  • December 2008: project consented by DECC in London

Research methodology

Research methodology

  • Mixed methods: qualitative and quantitative

  • Six in-depth interviews with developer, two local councillors, opposition group, support group, CCW

  • Six focus group discussions with local residents, two each in the towns of Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno (n = 44)

  • Questionnaire surveys distributed to local residents using a drop and collect method

    • Llandudno (n = 220)

    • Colwyn Bay (n = 237)

  • Data collected between March-July 2008, pre-consent



  • Levels of support for the project

  • Local impacts: benefits and drawbacks

  • Place: meanings and attachments

  • Perceptions of the community benefit offer

  • Trust

  • Fairness and planning procedures

What kind of place is llandudno colwyn bay

What kind of place is Llandudno / Colwyn Bay?

  • beautiful, beautiful view of the bay, beautiful scenery, pretty, heaven, elegant, picturesque, stunning location

dying, in decline, scummy, horrible, grim, sad, unloved, depressing, dump, shabby, bypassed, forgotten, tired, faded, dirty, untidy

Impacts financial and symbolic

Impacts: financial and symbolic

1. 49.5% of Llandudno respondents agreed with the statement: ‘The offer is a bribe to silence local opposition’

  • The rather late timing (2007) of its announcement in the planning process may have contributed to this view

    2. The opposition group played upon shared beliefs that Llandudno is a distinctively beautiful, historic natural place - an escape from urban life

  • These beliefs constitute place-related identity processes

  • They argued that the project would threaten the place by ‘industrialising’ the area, ‘fencing in the bay’ and ‘damaging tourism’

  • Significant relation between a sense of attachment to Llandudno and negative emotions (threat), negative attitudes to the project and willingness to oppose the project

Trust in developer

Trust in developer

Average levels of trust on a scale of 1 5

Average levels of trust (on a scale of 1-5)

*Statistical analyses showed that residents in each of the two places were not statistically significant, except for their trust in the opposition group

Unfair secretive distant

Unfair, secretive, distant?

1. In Llandudno, 31.6% of respondents ‘strongly disagreed’ with the statement ‘I think the planning process for Gwynt y Mor has been fair’

  • There were a large number of ‘neutral’ responses, particularly in Colwyn Bay (52.5%)

    2. 48.6% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the planning process was secretive, and these did not differ significantly across the two places

    3. Only 6.9% agreed that the final decision on Gwynt y Mor should be made in London

  • 74.8% disagreed or strongly disagreed



  • Varying patterns of local public support across the case studies provide evidence of substantial social consent as well as opposition to projects

  • The NIMBY concept is a ‘limitation’ in terms of how we think about and practice public engagement

  • We need to nurture and protect existing social consent by

    • Reconceiving ‘siting’ as ‘emplacing’ technologies (physical and symbolic/affective aspects)

    • Drawing on local knowledge and enhancing local benefit

    • Implementing meaningful and full engagement practices

    • Devising fair and transparent decision processes

  • But this is not a ‘formula’ for public acceptance - one size does not fit all …..

Thank you

Thank you

  • To my colleagues Yuko Howes and Hannah Devine-Wright; to the project team, survey distributors and all participants; and to the funding agency: Research Councils’ Energy Programme/Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Ref: RES-125-25).

What were the key factors

What were the key factors?

Caution required since these are simply correlations - may be shared variance

Was conflict inevitable

Was conflict inevitable?

  • Values and the Victorians

    1. The opposition group

  • “There’s so much history and heritage attached to it [Llandudno]; it’s a very special area and people have a deep love for it and we don’t want to see it spoiled …. We want to preserve that for future generations …. we want to keep it that way”

    2. One focus group participant

  • “Llandudno was built and set out by the Victorians, and it’s my opinion that had they had the technology at that time [i.e. wind turbines], they would have proceeded with this scheme, along with the pier and the electric trams and we’d have all been very pleased with the achievement, to be quite honest, and we would have accepted it”.

Gwynt y mor conclusions

Gwynt y Mor Conclusions

  • Location: is it the wrong place for a wind farm?

    • Physically (bay) and symbolically (restorative)

    • Crown Estate/Llandudno

  • Benefits: developer’s community benefit offer too late (mistrust) to shape support?

  • Planning:

    • No dialogue between the parties

    • DECC: a ‘black hole’ in a different country

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