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The transition of the Austrian energy system to a high penetration of wind energy - a participatory integrated assessment of the social acceptance: final report

[final report]

Scherhaufer, Patrick; Höltinger, Stefan; Salak, Boris; Schauppenlehner, Thomas; Schmidt, Johannes

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Corporate Editor Universität für Bodenkultur (BOKU), Institut für Wald-, Umwelt- und Ressourcenpolitik
Abstract Social acceptance is considered to be a decisive factor for the development of wind energy. Surveys repeatedly show that while people support wind energy in general, specific wind farm projects often cause local opposition. Local resistance against wind energy cannot be explained by singular issues such as simple cost-benefit calculations, the public support for renewable energy sources, the implementation strategy of the developer, the number of wind turbines installed, the intensity of the turbine noise, the protection of local birds and animals, or the “not-in-my-backyard”-effect (Stadlober and Hahn 1998; Warren et al. 2005; Wolsink 2000, 2007a), although a very dominant influence seems to be the specific value of the landscape, the familiar surroundings and the habitat (Wolsink 2007b). Hence, the acceptance of wind energy depends on a complex set of individual and societal indicators, perceptions and preferences rooted in institutional and socio-political arrangements. The project’s approach was based on the concept of social acceptance (Wüstenhagen et al. 2007), which is composed of socio-political, market and community acceptance. Wüstenhagen et al. investigated spatial planning and financial procurement systems to assess socio-political acceptance, market innovation, consumer and investors behaviour to explain market acceptance, procedural and distributional justice and trust to contribute to the understanding of community acceptance. The three levels of acceptance do interact, have main actors associated and are influenced by their interactions and contributing expectations. We recur to this triangle model because it provides a broad holistic framework widely recognised not only in a scientific but also in a practical context. TransWind established a conceptual and methodological reliable participatory integrated assessment in order to test various factors of social acceptance. On a macro scale the integrated assessment was based on semi-structured interviews, participatory workshops and a group discussion (WorldCafé) with the experts from our stakeholder group, an estimation of the theoretical wind area potential in Austria and a participatory modelling approach to analyse the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). On the community level focus groups, semi-structured interviews and presentations/tests of visualisation tools were conducted. Both the integration of results from the macro analyses to the community scale and the use of a mixed-method design ensured the inter- and transdisciplinary character of TransWind. This approach is needed to gain new, practical and relevant insights, which could not have been obtained merely from scientific or interdisciplinary sources. The conceptual framework of TransWind therefore aimed at integrating in a systematic way the analytical perspectives of the scientists and their approaches with the preferences and perceptions of the persons concerned about the issue (stakeholders) through establishing a reference group, holding workshops and organising interviews and focus groups. The assessment was complemented by a GIS based modelling tool (Where the wind blows - WTWB), which allowed the participatory assessment of optimal locations for wind power, depending on the spatial distribution of wind resources. Inputs from the reference group were summarized in a criteria catalogue to define three scenarios (min, med and max) for potentially suitable wind turbine sites. These three scenarios were complemented by a fourth scenario that reflects the wind energy potential with suitability zones for wind energy already defined by Austrian federal states. For all potential locations we calculated the levelized cost of energy generation (LCOE) to derive wind energy supply curves for each scenario of potentially suitable wind turbine sites. Under the assumptions of the min scenario, only 3.5TWh of wind energy could be produced at relatively high costs of 96 to 243 € MWh-1. Thus, it would not be possible to meet the wind energy targets of 3GW installed capacity (equivalent to about 6.3TWh assuming current capacity factors) of the Austrian Eco-Electricity-Act 2012. The med and max scenario would allow for further expanding the wind energy share at reasonable cost of about 95 EUR MWh-1 even if electricity demand keeps steadily rising. The modelling results raised our understanding of the related costs and benefits and served as a basis for the case study selection. In the case studies, TransWind worked with interactive 3D visualisation tools based on latest visualisation developments to provide real-time and realistic visualisations for discussing and assessing different planning strategies and siting processes related to the visual impact on the landscape. Our research on technologies for 3D modelling in the context of Wind turbine visualisations has shown that different concepts and methods exist. The simple image visualisations (static images) are state of the art in planning processes but they are increasingly criticised as there is no easy way to prove their reliability and the number of viewpoints is very limited. From a cost perspective it is still the most efficient technology and the images can be easily shared in reports, presentations or websites. Interactive 3D visualisations allow users to change their viewpoints interactively depending on personal motifs. Therefore, personal fears and expectations can be addressed which may lead to more objective discussions and exchange of opinions during planning processes. During the project, two very new technologies entered the stage: Augmented reality (AR) and Virtual reality (VR) applications. Both are driven by the fast spread of mobile phones and may provide some additional insights in the visual impact of wind turbines. Nevertheless there are still some technological barriers that leads to positioning errors or unrealistic views due to the missing masking of 3D objects by real world objects (in AR) or are lacking quality due to low screen resolutions of mobile phones (in VR). Through the research in the case studies and the preferences expressed by the stakeholders of the reference group TransWind identified different and sometimes contrasting patterns of social acceptance, which enhanced our understanding about the economical, political, ecological and social feasibility of wind power plants. Our empirical results showed that all interview partners and focus group participants consider vertical and horizontal cooperation and coordination across different political levels and parties (stakeholders; experts; local to regional decision makers; citizens) to be important. The problem is that the process of interaction between these actors is often conflictual. Different factors could be highlighted explaining this divergence. Such factors can be seen in the conflict of interests, rationales and beliefs which strengthen the problems of coordination and cooperation. Furthermore, any wind energy project is characterised by the basic systemic conflict between nature conservation (protection of wildlife, habitat and landscape) and narratives of ecological modernisation (e.g. climate protection or energy transition). These moral concepts (core beliefs) and policy cores (general beliefs and perceptions in a specific policy field like wind energy) of the participants are unlikely to change. Only the so called secondary aspects, which relates to the implementation of a policy (e.g. instruments, concrete actions), are most likely to change and are subject to learning processes. Solutions for local wind energy projects can only be found in coordinated processes of cooperation taking into account all patterns of social acceptance. In order to ensure acceptance, decision-making processes have to be reformed, justice sustained and thereby both input and output legitimacy enhanced. All of these factors were taken into account when TransWind finally established a guideline for various user audiences interested in handling the acceptance and non-acceptance of wind energy.
Keywords wind energy; acceptance; perception; renewable energy; environmental consciousness; environmental protection; climate protection; conciliation of interests; decision making; Austria
Classification Ecology, Environment; Special areas of Departmental Policy
Method applied research; empirical; qualitative empirical; quantitative empirical
Document language English
Publication Year 2016
City Wien
Page/Pages 36 p.
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike