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Toward Best Practices for Public Acceptability in Wave Energy: Issues Developers Need to Address

Date: October 07, 2013 at 18:31 GMT

Provided that wave energy (WE) has a large potential for producing electricity [1] and looking at the proposed WE deployment scenarios [2], it can be assumed that WE may become a significant contributor to the global renewable energy (RE) mix. At this initial stage of development of the WE sector, it is very important not to make the same mistakes that other RE sectors have made in some countries and to gain public acceptability from the early stages. This key period will only occur once, and if it is not dealt with efficiently and proactively, it may take several years to regain pubic trust in the sector. Since when obtaining a permit for a particular site, WE developers can be legally (depending on the nature of the project – demonstration or commercial) or morally, or both, obliged to discuss their development plans and intentions with local communities, the way they approach these communities will leave a long-lasting impression about the sector as a whole. Thus, developers act as good-will ambassadors not only for their own projects, but also for the WE sector. This article focuses on the issues developers need to address when discussing WE projects with local communities to achieve more efficiently public acceptability. 

Public acceptability is not a new phenomenon - it has often been encountered with the adoption of new technologies, the placing of architectural monuments and works of art in public locations. Most of it has to do not so much with the form or function of the new development but with its symbolic meaning. Since the majority of wave energy converters (WECs) are in the experimental rather than commercial stage, citizens around the world do not have enough information to form an opinion about their impact yet [3-5]. Coastal communities, who will likely be the most impacted, either positively or negatively by this new technology, wonder how much change will be brought by it regarding conflicts of ocean use, community well-being (including employment, income, electricity rates, property values, and tourism flow), noise, visual, aesthetic, and environmental impact (EI).

Experience from different REs makes it possible for WE developers to learn about concerns that local communities typically have had with RE projects: how they perceived the new technology, the developers’ approach to the community, or commitment to engagement practices. Although there is no general and simple formula that guarantees obtaining full acceptability of WE projects, several approaches have turned out to be successful. This paper focuses on the developers’ experiences from recent WE projects on  both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. To illustrate the major points, three case studies are presented: an European pilot project in Mutriku, Spain, and two US commercial projects from Oregon – the Douglas County Wave and Tidal Energy Project and the Tillamook County - Columbia Energy Partners Project. 

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