Factors Affecting Social Acceptance of Renewable Energy and Transmission Projects

Survey research consistently shows Canadians strongly support renewable energy, but when it comes to getting renewable energy and transmission projects built on the ground, general support does not always hold. At the community level, Canadians often oppose projects. 

Considering the unprecedented pace and proportion of Canada’s renewable energy transition, Dr. Louise Comeau with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick set out to investigate what factors affect the social acceptance of renewable energy and transmission projects.  

Through a mix of regional focus groups and a national survey, the topline results found the top factors influencing the acceptability of energy and transmission projects were fairness, influence and trust:

  • Evaluation of the fairness of a project is a major driving factor. Support for renewable energy projects is high when communities see the projects as being fair to people and communities, especially when it comes to the distribution of social costs and benefits. Specifically, the people most impacted by projects should benefit from them.

  • People want access and opportunities to influence decision-making processes, for example having a choice over where projects and transmission lines will go increases social acceptance.

  • Institutional trust is critical. Citizens are concerned about power imbalances from vested interests and bias; neutral subject matter experts are trusted sources for advice.

  What does this mean for communicators? Core recommendations include: 

  • Stand for fairness and speak to fairness outcomes especially relative to others, future generations and nature. The fairness frame should showcase collective benefits and not solely focus on personal costs and benefits.
  •  Narratives should tell a story of fairness for those least able to afford change in favour of an outcome where groups that contribute most to a problem or have greater ability to pay step up.
  • Create policy and programs that protect low-income households and defend communities/citizens’ rights to access, influence, education and expertise. 
  • To avoid triggering debate and skepticism…

    • Avoid using absolute language (“always”,”never”, “the only solution”) and use comparatives instead (“wind and solar are cheaper than coal, oil, gas and nuclear”) to increase confidence in the effectiveness of proposed solutions.

    • Minimize debates about numbers or the number of years left to avoid 1.5 degrees warming (use a range for numbers; emphasize the need for action now).

  • Build trust in implementing institutions by demanding transparency and open access to information, and enforcement to raise government trust.

  • Practice communicating momentum, with specific examples for local/regional communications. The challenge is to not “sound like a politician” when using a national narrative with higher-level references to renewable energy projects being built today.

  • Use comparatives (“wind and solar are cheaper than coal, oil, gas and nuclear”) to increase confidence in the effectiveness of proposed solutions.

  • Test and explore frames of sharing, security and sovereignty relating to transmission networks.

Check out the executive summary, watch the webinar recording, or download the slide deck for more details.

Date: 2022
Strategic Approach: Framing
Strategic Approach: Framing

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