Community Power: Understanding the outcomes and impacts from community-owned wind energy projects in small regional communities.

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Copyright: Hicks, Jarra
There is increasing interest in the potential for community initiatives to supply goods and services while simultaneously addressing multiple social and environmental challenges. Community-owned renewable energy (CORE) is a form of renewable energy deployment in which communities (of various compositions) initiate, develop, own, operate and benefit from the enterprise. While some outcomes and impacts from CORE are immediately visible and easily quantified, little is understood about the more elusive and relational outcomes and impacts, such as empowerment, and the project features that affect their realisation. Through fine-grained analysis of four community-owned wind energy projects across Australia and Scotland, I reflect on three aspects of enterprise design: community engagement practices, economic arrangements and governance structures. Using qualitative methods, I consider the outcomes and impacts from the projects as perceived and experienced by local people. I apply diverse economies and generative enterprise design frameworks to inform an analysis of CORE as a form of social enterprise capable of enacting social and environmental motivations in the process of delivering renewable energy. Analysing the range of local people’s interactions with and perceptions of the projects reveals participation as the bud of a surprising range of outcomes and impacts. Diverse and meaningful ways to participate build a rich web of interaction and contribution, which provide opportunities for people to develop personal connections with the project and other people over time. This becomes the foundation for experiences of individual and collective empowerment that redefines how people feel and act as members of their community, and as participants in energy change. I contribute to existing concepts of public participation by presenting an analysis that reveals how enterprise design can both open up and restrict community participation in significant ways. Participatory features of enterprise design are analysed through the development of a ‘participation footprint’ method. Empowerment is achieved through attention to diverse, meaningful and sustained opportunities for participation that can be enfolded into enterprise design to varying degrees and in multiple ways. I conclude that not only is CORE an important element of the transition to renewable energy, it can also contribute to economic opportunities, democratisation, community-building, empowerment and community mobilisation.
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Hicks, Jarra
Morgan, Bronwen
Thompson, Susan
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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