Public engagement is key to successful energy development endeavors because it builds trust and communication between local communities and government agencies that facilitate energy projects. However, new research from NCCOS suggests that traditional public engagement activities for offshore wind energy development in the U.S. — such as solicitations for public comment, and informational meetings — are likely only engaging people inclined to participate in such activities, resulting in a false read of public opinion.
Th researchers offer three potential areas for improving offshore wind energy development processes related to social action and representation in civic engagement: 1) encouragement of non-active oppositional residents in order to better address their concerns, 2) identification and encouragement of supportive residents as allies to local renewable energy development efforts, and 3) better mitigation of active oppositional resident opinions.
Data were collected via a random household survey within coastal populations of North and South Carolina adjacent to proposed offshore wind energy development. Cluster analysis was used to create subgroups based on awareness, support level, and intended action. Perceived impacts, place attachment, and demographic characteristics were then examined between these spatial clusters. Residents of cluster 1 ("engaged minority") are more likely to be aware of and opposed to offshore wind energy development efforts, as well as more likely to have engaged in past action and intend action than residents of cluster 2 ("quiet majority").
Place-based findings are used to discuss management implications for potentially non-representative understandings of public opinion in energy development solutions, and recommendations for improved public engagement efforts related to offshore wind energy.
The two new terms "engaged minority" and "quiet majority" and surrounding conversations on awareness, opportunity, place attachment, perceived impacts, disenfranchisement, distrust, perceived process fairness, and compounding barriers to social action are offered to those involved in energy generation research and management, but may also be of interest to those considering citizen engagement in public policy decisions.
Citation: Fleming. C.S., Gonyo, S.B., Freitag, A., and Goedeke, T.L. 2022. Engaged minority or quiet majority? Social intentions and actions related to offshore wind energy development in the United States. Energy Research & Social Science, 84; 102440. doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2021.102440