In 2012, a large scale wind energy project was proposed for development in King Island, Tasmania, Australia. The project proponents adopted what they described as a ‘best practice’ approach to community engagement; an approach expected to achieve positive outcomes for developer and community by maximising community involvement in decision-making, limiting social conflict, and enhancing the potential of achieving the social licence to operate. Despite this, the community experience during the time of the proposal was one of conflict and distress, and the proposal was eventually cancelled due to exogenous economic factors. This case study explores a key element of the engagement process—holding a community vote—that caused significant problems for people and process. The vote appeared to be a democratic means to facilitate community empowerment in the decision-making process. However, in this study, we show that the vote resulted in an increase in conflict and polarisation, challenged the legitimacy of the consultative process and credibility of the proponents, and ultimately led to legal actions taken by opponents against the proponent. Factors including voter eligibility, the benchmark for success of the vote, campaigning, and responses to the outcome of the vote are examined to demonstrate the complexity of decision-making for renewable energy and land use change more generally.

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