Renewable Energy Projects

Communities and Climate Change – The Case of Renewable Energy Projects

In the recent past, there has been an increase in number of renewable energy projects in various communities across the globe. This is due to increased concern about the preservation, conservation and protection of the environment from destructive human activities. However, the influx of renewable energy projects within communities has been faced with numerous challenges and difficulties. This paper reviews the impacts of renewable energy projects on communities as well as the impacts of communities on renewable energy projects. In addition, the paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages of increased involvement of communities in renewable energy projects. This will help in adding up to the literature that already exists on communities and renewable energy projects hence help in providing a better understanding about the two issues.

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A community refers to a group of people with common interests and values. Norris and Hoffman (2009) define the community as social network of people with a common agenda or interest who work together or collaboratively by sharing ideas, information and other socio-economic resources in order to attain a specific goal or objective. Community is usually composed of people who are linked together through a social network. Communities are formed by individuals who have one or two things in common (Norris & Hoffman 2009). Social network is a social structure that permits people to create interpersonal relationships and communicate freely and openly. Social network usually brings together people who have similar interests and passions (Norris & Hoffman 2009). Social networks are characterised by interdependency among the members. According to Norris and Hoffman (2009), social networks create social relations that are productive and beneficial to both the people and the communities. According to Drummond (2011), social networks are characterised by reciprocity, emotional closeness, geographical closeness among members of the community and ability of community members to have an adequate level of knowledge about one another. Social networks can be used to facilitate awareness, adoption and implementation of renewable energy projects in a given society. Social capital refers to the collective or economic benefits derived from cooperation and collaboration of people within the community. According to Norris and Hoffman (2009), social capital consists of networks, norms, relationships, values and informal sanctions that determine the level of interaction among members of the community. Social capital emphasises that social networks should create social values that increase productivity of people in the community. According to Norris and Hoffman (2009), social capital brings about the value in social networks. Drummond (2011) also explains that social capital is created through social networks which form a powerful asset for social development in the society. According to Norris and Hoffman (2009), social capital is usually measured using the ability of people in a community or the society to trust each other. Social capital usually facilitates the ability of people to assume more social responsibilities. However, it can also hinder social developments through hostilities and lack of adequate cooperation and collaboration among people. Similarly, people may develop negative perception about particular renewable energy projects through social networks thus making social networks a major hindrance to success of such projects.

Communities of Location and Communities of Interest

A community of location refers to a group of people who are bound together because they share a common place of residence, work or birth. People who belong to a community of location usually spend a significant amount of their time at a common place (Devine-Wright 2005a). A community of location is also called a place-based community. Examples of communities of location include neighbourhoods, worship places such as churches and mosques, workplaces or any other group of people who are geographically bound together.

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On the other hand, a community of interest refers to a group of people who are bound together by common, similar or universal social concerns or interests. A community of interest is usually characterised by continuous sharing of ideas and thoughts among the people. Drummond (2011) also affirms that communities of interest are often characterised by persistent exchange of ideas and information among the people. According to Devine-Wright (2005b), a community of interest is a group of people brought together by a topic of interest. Members of a community of interest often try to find answers and solutions to various problems faced by the community. They also tend to improve mutual understanding among people. People belonging to a particular community of interest usually have strong interpersonal bonds or feelings of attachment that bring and unite them together (Devine-Wright 2009).

Impact of Communities of Location and Communities of Interest on Renewable Energy Projects

Both communities of location and communities of interest have various impacts on renewable energy projects in the society. For example, communities of interest and communities of location can co-invest in the renewable energy projects hence facilitate their implementation. Members of communities of interest and communities of location would also provide support by acting as major stakeholders of the renewable energy projects. Communities of interest and communities of location can also provide invaluable advice on the feasibility of renewable energy projects within their jurisdictions. Communities of interest may also persuade the involvement of other stakeholders such as Federal Government and foreign investors in the renewable energy sector. Communities or interest and communities of location also help in creating awareness among members of society on the importance of renewable energy projects as well as the potential and benefits that are likely to be derived from such projects. This can be achieved through clear and open communication as well as exchange of information and ideas among members of the communities of interest and location and members of the wider community.

Communities of interest and communities of location can also facilitate the success of renewable energy projects by making available various resources such as human capital and funds which are needed for the success of the projects. Communities of location also dictate the place or location where renewable energy projects would be located. For example, a community of location would assert that a bio-gas plant should be located at a place where it would serve the entire community or assert that a hydroelectric generation plant should be located towards the end of a river where it would not interfere with domestic consumption of water. Similarly, a community of location would advocate for the location of a wind energy generation plant in an area where it does not affect agricultural activities. Community of interest and communities of location may also provide explicit policy support to renewable energy projects within their jurisdictions. This would encourage increased investment in the renewable energy projects.

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Communities of interest can also persuade the wider community to embrace renewable energy projects by influencing their willingness to be involved in the projects. This would positively impact successful development and implementation of the project. Hinshelwood (2001) also asserts that communities of interest and communities of location can improve the commitment of wider community in renewable energy projects by creating awareness, educating people on the importance of projects and increasing mutual understanding between stakeholders of the projects and wider community.

Communities may also impact renewable energy projects by increasingly seeking the development and implementation of the projects in their regions, helping to overcome social obstacles that may hinder the development and implementation of such projects, advocate for proper management of the projects, and promote democracy and active participation of the wider community in the projects.

One major negative impact of communities of location and communities of interest on renewable energy projects is opposition of proposed projects. This would be due to conflict of interests or because of low involvement of local people. Similar, communities of interest and communities of location may develop negative perception towards particular renewable energy projects hence hinder successful development and implementation of such projects in their areas. For example, people may be told that the use of fossil fuels may lead to increased emission of carbon dioxide gases hence increase global warming. This would lead to rejection of the projects. According to Maczulak (2010), winning the support and involvement of communities of interest and communities of location in renewable energy projects is important because it helps in realising full potential of the projects. It also leads to greater level of public acceptance due to increased awareness and uptake of renewable energy technologies in the society.

People may oppose the development and implementation of renewable energy projects in their regions due to factor such as mistrust between the developers and the residents, lack of adequate communication between residents and projects developers and increased destruction of people’s habitats.

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Impacts of Renewable Energy Projects on Communities of Location and Communities of Interest

Renewable energy projects have numerous impacts on both communities of interest and communities of location. Some of the impacts are negative while others are positive. There are a number of ways in which renewable energy projects can positively impact communities. Some of the major ways include the creation of jobs to local people, lowering of energy prices, increasing local security of energy supply in the regions, provision of income when excess energy generated by the projects is sold to other communities, increased capacity building for the local people due to training on production of renewable energy and improved infrastructure. On the other hand, an example of negative impact of renewable energy projects on the communities is the closure of Fraser Paper Mill in Northern Hampshire, Berlin, which led to loss of more than five thousand jobs. Similar, the tax revenues generated by the company were also reduced.

First and foremost, renewable energy projects bring socio-economic benefits such as reduction in prices of energy and improved living standards to both communities of location and communities of interest. Research studies by Brown and Worldwatch Institute (2008) predicted that renewable energy projects are likely to bring more economic benefits than commercially developed projects. A different research study by Byrne, Toly and Glover (2006) also established that wind energy projects had fivefold economic benefits and three- to fourfold impact on the creation of new job opportunities to local people in regions where they have been implemented successfully. Renewable energy projects also lead to increased local awareness about alternative green energy sources among both communities of interest and communities of location. Renewable energy projects also lead to increased involvement and participation of communities of interest and communities of location in green energy initiatives. This leads to greater investment and control of the renewable energy projects by local people. Local people also offer great support to the projects hence facilitating successful development and implementation of the projects. According to Hester and Harrison (2006), this increased awareness and involvement of local people in renewable energy projects lead to smooth management and success of the projects. It also leads to greater understanding of the projects by local people both at individual level and community levels. This permits development of additional renewable energy projects within the communities hence increased in supply of green energy in the society. Renewable energy projects also help in strengthening bonds among communities of interest and communities of location because these projects lead to the working together and cooperation among local people. Increased awareness also leads to increase in knowledge and expertise in green energy sources in the communities.

Renewable energy projects also increase pro-environmental behaviours in which members of communities of interest and communities of location strive to save the environment from negative human activities. Walker et al. (2007) also assert that renewable energy projects have seeded a culture of environmental change among communities of interest and communities of location towards promotion of a low carbon society. Renewable energy help in increasing awareness of renewable energy technologies among people. The projects also lead to increased uptake of renewable energies such as wind and geothermal power in the communities. Therefore, this influences increased development of a sustainable environment. Renewable energy projects can also act as a form of investment and source of income to members of community of interests and communities of location. For instance, a wind energy project can yield returns on investment to members of the communities of interest and location when people sell extra power generated to neighbouring communities and companies.

On the other hand, renewable energy projects may create additional risks such as displacement of persons, destruction of wildlife and increased environmental pollution which may negatively affect the communities of interest as well as communities of location. For example, the establishment of a wind energy plant may lead to relocation of people from their usual places of residence in order to create space for installation of windmills. Similarly, hydroelectric generation plants may lead to construction of water dams which leads to reduction of water available for domestic use and agricultural purposes such as irrigation. Renewable energy projects may also interfere with the lifestyles of local people. For example, rotating blades used in wind mills may cause noise which affects people’s health. Renewable energy projects may also become a threat to wildlife.

Hinshelwood (undated) argues that the actual impact of renewable energy projects on both communities of interest and communities of location may vary depending on the nature of project and level of ownership stake by local people. Renewable energy projects in which local people have a higher ownership stake have more positive impacts than renewable energy projects in which local people have lower ownership stake. Hunter (2006) also advises that communities of location should be addressed first during development and implementation of renewable energy projects because they are the ones that will be most affected by the projects. In addition, such communities also have the power to support or damage the projects because of their proximity to location. However, communities of interest also play a significant role in success of renewable energy projects. For example, a network of protestors may organise demonstrations against development and implementation of certain types of renewable energy projects which they feel would not considerably benefit them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Increasing Community Involvement in Renewable Energy Projects

The communities of interest and communities of location and renewable energy projects have greater potential for giving value to each other. This can be achieved through increased community involvement in the projects. Communities can be involved in renewable energy projects through provision of information, consultations and participation in which members of the community influence decision-making processes in the projects. However, increased involvement of communities in renewable energy projects has both advantages and disadvantages.

Some of major advantages of increasing community involvement in renewable energy projects include stimulation of markets for renewable energy, promotion of informed decision making in relation to development and implementation of renewable energy projects in the society, provision of valuable information needed for proper planning and execution of projects, availing resources needed for successful development and implementation of projects and emphasis of societal values and norms that act as guidelines for implementation of renewable energy projects in the society. According to Gardener and Stern (2002), community involvement in renewable energy projects gives local people some degree of control and a sense of ownership of the projects. This also gives members of the communities a sense of satisfaction hence encourages them to support the projects.

On the other hand, increased involvement of the communities may lead to conflict of interests which may hinder successful execution of the projects. Increased community involvement in renewable energy projects would also lead to delay in the decision-making process because a large number of people need to be consulted before decision is made. This would delay projects’ implementation.

Conclusion

Renewable energy projects can be complex to develop and implement because of the variety of factors such as difficulties encountered during technical assessments, high need for large amounts of funds and a wide range of stakeholders or parties interested in the projects. However, these challenges can be overcome if adequate community involvement is attained. In my view, there is greater hope in achieving successful renewable energy projects if the interests and concerns of communities of interest and communities of location are adequately addressed and considered.

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