Communities and energy projects: Trust is everything, says study



Think local opposition is based on climate change? Think again

What’s the secret sauce for energy project approval in Canada?

According to the Canada West Foundation, it boils down to trust—not climate change.

A non-partisan think tank, the Canada West Foundation recently announced the results of a study seeking to understand what drives community confidence in the energy project decision-making process.

Local opposition to energy infrastructure, and the concerns that create that opposition, “are often not what opinion leaders and political decision-makers have assumed,” reads the study, which was produced by the CWF and the University of Ottawa. “Importantly, local opposition is not restricted to pipelines and oil sands, and it is often not about climate change.”

The CWF study examined six recently proposed Canadian energy projects, including gas-fired power plants, a hydroelectric dam, a wind farm and a power transmission line. Its research showed various factors to be “far more important” to local communities than climate change, including:

  • Safety;
  • Need;
  • Distribution of benefits;
  • Local environmental impacts;
  • Restrictive consultation or communication practices; and
  • Local involvement in decision making.

Context is everything, and the simple promise of economic benefits is no longer enough to sway local communities, according to the report—which calls for a total “rethink” of the way energy infrastructure projects are proposed, communicated and regulated.

“Local authorities and communities are demanding an increasing role in how economic and environmental decisions by third parties affect their future,” says the CWF report. “One thing seems very clear—the world of elite, centralized decision-making without local engagement is fast becoming a thing of the past.”


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