Achieving local public acceptance for new energy technologies, “not in my backyard?”

Technological advances are making it possible to derive energy from greener sources, but wind turbines, solar panels, biofuels, biomass plants or carbon capture and storage (CSS) are not free of controversy. How to gain public acceptance of these new technologies? That was the debate at the workshop “Public acceptance of new energy technologies. Not in my backyard?” held at the Open Days on 5 October.

Politicians and decision-makers are in a difficult position if the public does not accept these new technologies, as the EU will not reach its targets to decarbonise EU energy sector by 2050. Although Commission runs public consultation quite often the question is: is public consultation the best way to gain public acceptance? Is it the only way? How can the EU bridge the gap between theory and practice, between projects and citizens?

As the initiative Comment Visions put forward, there are still concerns about some new energy technologies, which have in various parts of Europe stoked resistance to pilot and full-scale deployment projects. Asking why some major new energy projects have failed, Nick Pidgeon from Cardiff University pointed to a certain lack of democracy and participation deficit. Compensation, which although working in some occasion, still remains controversial. Furthermore, MEP Edit Herczog stressed that compensation only works in times of growth and that in this moment, it is important to focus on investment. Acting rapidly on investment will create new jobs.

Part of the debate also addressed the balance between the project objectives and engineering objectives. Reconciling both approaches is not always easy and at the end of the day, facilities must be profitable and meet their purposes and budget. Vicente J. Cortes, director of the  oxycombustion and CO2 capture programme, CIUDEN Foundation, who gave an overview of the Foundation main initiatives, also pointed out that engineers have to gather all inputs provided and give the best technical solution meeting the requirements. Some opinions such as Andrea Athanas senior programme officer at International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) stressed the need to be careful and analyse all aspects related to the project.

Still, at the core of the debate, the question remains on how to get people involve in the project and how to get acceptance. Annabelle Jacquet, from minister Nollet cabinet, highlighted the role of politicians in order to pass the message that making the effort in implementing new energy technologies is worthwhile.

After the debate with the audience, Vice-president of European Union liaison, Shell, Hans van der Loo, concluded that new energy solutions will be more and more needed and gaining public acceptance for them will be crucial. Education is therefore one of the key questions in order to come up with these new solutions, in order to educate about what we need these new solutions and to show why they have to be implemented here.