Chapter 2: Public participation in decision-making on energy projects: when does it lead to better and more acceptable energy projects?
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Chapter 2 addresses the often-mentioned problem that public participation procedures in the field of energy transition tend to exacerbate societal conflicts and divisions, rather than overcoming them. Climate change mitigation and adaptation policy relies on sustainable energy transition. Yet, plans and projects for wind farms, hydropower stations, and carbon capture and storage installations are slowed down, or even withdrawn, due to public resistance. Accordingly, the question raised is how to develop sustainable energy projects that better address societal interests and values and that are socially more acceptable. The enhancement of possibilities for public participation mechanisms in the context of energy projects might offer a solution. Indeed, by inviting an increasing number of people to participate, decision-making procedures in this area would become more democratic and fair. In theory, such processes would lead to greater acceptance of energy projects by the various groups of society. Even though both international and national policy in the area of transition energy emphasize the importance of public participation, the question remains whether public participation is truly the silver bullet for controversial energy projects. Today, certain groups dominate participatory processes (most notably, well-educated white males over 55 with above-average incomes) and participation can end in polarization rather than consensus (eg debates between climate change sceptics and believers). These findings result in heavy criticism of today’s approach to public participation. Based on environmental psychology insights, Chapter 2 proposes a value-based approach to addressing the key challenges surrounding participatory democracy in energy projects. There are four categories of people’s values: biospheric (protecting nature and the environment); altruistic (safeguarding the well-being of others), egoistic (safeguarding personal resources); and hedonic (seeking pleasure and comfort). Energy projects carry implications for each of those. The chapter postulates that, by linking the strength of people’s values to the implications of energy projects for these values, it can be established (i) who participates and (ii) whether a consensus can be reached. Hence, this framework serves to understand what motives drive people with different values to participate, increasing a heterogenic representation of values during public participation procedures. Moreover, the framework helps to understand which values lead participants to engage in conflicts and how to address those values during the participation process of energy projects.

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