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Case Studies in Energy Transitions: A Special Collection


Dustin Mulvaney, San Jose State University, and Maria Petrova, Georgetown University, USA

INTRODUCTION: The emphasis of this special collection of articles is case studies research and teaching activities about energy transitions—long term structural changes to energy systems, technologies, and patterns of use.

This curation of Case Studies in the Environment articles brings together papers that cover the core concepts, keywords, debates, best practices, techniques, tools, skills, and observations needed to improve our understandings of energy transitions. This special issue collection invites papers that engage with ideas and themes about energy transitions or that are incorporated into pedagogical activities. Examples topics in energy transitions include questions of temporal and spatial relevance on the magnitude of energy transitions, land use change, just transitions, life cycle assessment, finance/business, economics, behavioral concepts, socio-cultural change, policy tools and techniques, environmental justice issues, technological dependency, public participation, and carbon lock-in.


Green Energy from Garbage? A Case Study of Municipal Solid Waste’s Contested Inclusion in Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard

Ingrid Behrsin, University of California, Davis, USA

Abstract: Renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) are powerful state-level climate policy tools that set minimum renewable energy targets. They have been adopted by 29 states, in the United States (U.S.) as well as Washington, D.C., and have fueled much of the growth in the U.S. renewable energy sector. However, because these policy tools are state-driven, the technologies and fuel types included in each state’s RPS vary. In this article, I discuss the inclusion of municipal solid waste in Maryland’s RPS, and a social movement for environmental justice that has emerged around this decision. Given the prominence of RPSs in both fueling renewable energy adoption in the U.S., as well as in encouraging particular technologies, it is increasingly important to interrogate the types of technologies and fuel sources that climate policies like RPSs incentivize, and how they are received by the communities for which they are proposed. Thus, this article’s objective is to inspire critical thought about the classification schemes that govern renewable energy production. Read more...

Renewable Energy on Tribal Lands: A Feasibility Study for a Biomass-to-Energy Plant on the Cocopah Reservation in Arizona

Lauren K. D’Souza, Renewable Resources Group LLC, Los Angeles, California, USA

William L. Ascher, Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, California, USA

Tanja Srebotnjak, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, California, USA

Abstract: Native American reservations are among the most economically disadvantaged regions in the United States; lacking access to economic and educational opportunities that are exacerbated by “energy insecurity” due to insufficient connectivity to the electric grid and power outages. Local renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and biomass offer energy alternatives but their implementation encounters barriers such as lack of financing, infrastructure, and expertise, as well as divergent attitudes among tribal leaders. Biomass, in particular, could be a source of stable base-load power that is abundant and scalable in many rural communities. This case study examines the feasibility of a biomass energy plant on the Cocopah reservation in southwestern Arizona. It considers feedstock availability, cost and energy content, technology options, nameplate capacity, discount and interest rates, construction, operation and maintenance (O&M) costs, and alternative investment options. Read more...

Barriers to the Uptake of Off-Grid Solar Lighting Products in Bihar

Sandeep Pai and Savannah Carr-Wilson, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Abstract: The federal government of India and the state government of Bihar, India’s least electrified state, have always focused on grid expansion to bring power to those living without grid access. However, grid expansion has been slow. In Bihar, 83% of people still live without electricity, relying on dangerous kerosene lamps to light their homes. In the 1980s, an alternative—a market for solar home systems and solar lanterns—started to develop in Bihar. Yet, this market has failed to thrive, despite three decades of intervention by the government and activity by private companies. Today, fewer than 4.2% of unelectrified Bihar households use a solar lighting product. Based on interviews with key stakeholders, this case study found that the biggest obstacle to market growth is the government kerosene subsidy, which halves the price of kerosene, and makes people less interested in solar lighting products. Read more...

Sidrap: A Study of the Factors That Led to the Development of Indonesia’s First Large-Scale Wind Farm

Martha Maulidia, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Paul Dargusch, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Peta Ashworth, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Agung Wicaksono, Institut Teknologi Bandung, Jakarta, Indonesia

Abstract: The first utility-scale (75 MW) wind farm facility in Indonesia (the “Sidrap” project) was launched in South Sulawesi in early 2018. In this case study, we assess how several factors contributed to the successful development of the Sidrap project including strong signals of support from the Indonesian Government; long-term local presence of private sector partners; familiarity of private sector partners with the risks and nuances of investing in Indonesia; and an innovative private-public sector partnership model. In the last 2 years, Indonesia’s electricity sector has changed much in terms of pricing policy and private sector involvement. Much effort has been directed toward the Indonesian Government meeting its renewable energy deployment target of 23% of the total energy mix by 2025. The question remains, however, on whether Indonesia will be able to develop additional renewable energy projects to Sidrap in the future, given the continuing changes and uncertainty in Indonesian’s renewable energy policy and politics. Read more...

Using Concepts from the Study of Social Movements to Understand Community Response to Liquefied Natural Gas Development in Clatsop County, Oregon

Trang Tran, University of Alaska, Anchorage, USA

Casey L. Taylor, University of Delaware, Newark, USA

Hilary S. Boudet, Oregon State University, Corvallis, USA

Keith Baker, SUNY College at Brockport, USA

Holly L. Peterson, Oregon State University, Corvallis, USA

Abstract: Shifts in natural gas supply and demand since the early 2000s have triggered proposals for import and export terminals in coastal locations around the United States. Demand for such facilities is likely to grow with increasing rates of natural gas exports. Clatsop County, Oregon, is one such location that experienced over 10 years of debate surrounding the development of these facilities. The first liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility was proposed in this area in 2004; the final was withdrawn in 2016. While residents expressed both support and opposition early on, opposition dominated by the end. Drawing on insights from the literature on social movements, we conduct a case study of community response to LNG proposals in Clatsop County. We show how opponents were able to successfully frame the potential risks of LNG in a manner that had strong community salience, allowing them to appropriate resources and create political opportunities to advance their cause and influence local and state decisions. Read more...

Closing Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, 2009–2018: Decision-Making on Energy Investments Relevant to Climate Change

John H. Perkins, The Evergreen State College (Emeritus), Washington, DC, USA

Abstract: Modern economies cannot function without electricity, and production of electric power affects citizens in many ways, including climate change. Production of electricity requires investments that easily reach billions of dollars, and streams of investment capital must be perpetual to procure fuel, build and maintain plants, and transmit electricity to customers. This case study addresses whether a California decision relevant to investments about generating electricity adequately considered competing concerns. In 2009, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E, a private, investor-owned utility) applied to renew the operating licenses of its two nuclear reactors at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (the “plant”). By 2016, PG&E had decided not to seek license renewal and asked the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to approve a price increase for its electricity to pay for specified expenses in closing the plant, which generated 24% of PG&E’s electricity. Read more...

Pedagogy for the Ethical Dimensions of Energy Transitions from Ethiopia to Appalachia

Jen Fuller, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

Sharlissa Moore, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

Abstract: Education on energy ethics is a crucial part of engaging students in learning about energy systems and energy transitions that needs further development. This article describes the use of case studies and active learning tools to achieve learning outcomes related to the ethical and social dimensions of energy. It discusses a daylong workshop held for undergraduate and graduate students at Michigan State University in February 2017 and evaluates pre- and postlearning outcomes. Two case studies are described that highlight ethical trade-offs in energy transitions. An international case study on Ethiopia and the Grand Renaissance Dam illustrates the benefits and drawbacks of cross-border electricity trade related to energy access, economic growth, and the energy-water nexus. A domestic case study on coal miners and coal towns in Appalachia examines the layered influences of place attachment and the challenges of economic diversification post-peak coal extraction. Read more...

Socially Not Acceptable: Lessons from a Wind Farm Project in St-Valentin, Quebec

Louis Simard, University of Ottawa, Canada

Abstract: Social acceptability appears as a new public norm that major projects must meet in order to be authorized and realized. This article proposes to analyze the case of a wind farm project in the municipality of St-Valentin, Quebec, Canada near the border with Vermont, which was cancelled by the government due to lack of social acceptance, in order to illustrate the importance of this norm today. The project involved the construction of 25 turbines to generate 52 MW of power. Launched in 2006, the project was already significantly under way by 2008; however, in 2011, the government permanently shelved it. Through a combination of document analysis and 11 interviews, we identified the main reasons for the lack of social acceptability: lack of upstream consultation from the developer and wrong scale planned for the consultation process, controversies surrounding the public decision-making process, profound contradictions between the community’s values and interests and the nature of the project, and perceptions of the impacts on the landscape and conflicting uses. Read more...

Using a Community Vote for Wind Energy Development Decision-Making in King Island, Tasmania

R.M. Colvin, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

G. Bradd Witt, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Justine Lacey, Commonwealth Scientific and Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO), Brisbane, Australia

Abstract: 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. Read more...

Shooting for Perfection: Hawaii’s Goal of 100% Renewable Energy Use

Barry D. Solomon, Michigan Technological University, USA

Adam M. Wellstead, Michigan Technological University, USA

Abstract: In the United States, 29 states, Washington, D.C. and three territories have adopted a mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for their electric power systems, while eight states and one territory have set renewable energy goals. Many foreign nations have adopted an RPS as well. Thus far, almost all RPSs across the United States have met their interim goals with targets and timetables that vary widely. Hawaii’s RPS is the most ambitious, with a 100% target set for 2045 (though Vermont set a 75% target for 2032). This paper provides a case study of the Hawai’i RPS. The paper focuses on geographical issues and perspectives that may tease out the course of the states’ electricity future: sensitivity to climate change, population distribution, interisland rivalries, as well as the need for greater energy storage and complementary policies. An important complexity is the challenge of meeting electricity demand on six separate Hawaiian Islands (because of the lack of an interisland transmission cable), although all of them have substantial renewable energy resources. Read more...

Evaluating Community Engagement and Benefit-Sharing Practices in Australian Wind Farm Development

Nina Lansbury Hall, The University of Queensland, Australia

Jarra Hicks, University of New South Wales, Australia

Taryn Lane, Embark, Victoria, Australia

Emily Wood, Independent Communications Contractor, Victoria, Australia

Abstract: The wind industry is positioned to contribute significantly to a clean energy future, yet the level of community opposition has at times led to unviable projects. Social acceptance is crucial and can be improved in part through better practice community engagement and benefit-sharing. This case study provides a “snapshot” of current community engagement and benefit-sharing practices for Australian wind farms, with a particular emphasis on practices found to be enhancing positive social outcomes in communities. Five methods were used to gather views on effective engagement and benefit-sharing: a literature review, interviews and a survey of the wind industry, a Delphi panel, and a review of community engagement plans. The overarching finding was that each community engagement and benefit-sharing initiative should be tailored to a community’s context, needs and expectations as informed by community involvement. This requires moving away from a “one size fits all” approach. This case study is relevant to wind developers, energy regulators, local communities and renewable energy-focused non-government organizations. It is applicable beyond Australia to all contexts where wind farm development has encountered conflicted societal acceptance responses. Read more...

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