Offshore Renewables Developers Should Pay More Attention to Island Communities’ Needs

A research by the University of Cape Town and Plymouth University suggests there is an appetite for renewable energy projects within island communities, but public and private sector bodies could face opposition if they fail to take local distinctiveness into account at the beginning of the planning process.

The study, published in the International Journal of Marine Energy, focused on three island archipelagos around the UK coastline – the Scilly Isles off south-west England, and the Orkney and Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland – with researchers issuing questionnaires and conducting in-depth interviews with representatives from the renewables and marine industries, conservation groups, community bodies and local residents.

The majority of respondents expressed a positive attitude towards marine renewable energy offshore – 81.1% for tidal energy, 80.0% for wave and 58.9% for offshore wind – with a minority expressing negative attitudes (5.4% for tidal, 5.9%  for wave and 14.8% for offshore wind).

However, communities argued strongly that schemes should provide clear local benefits, and also that any new developments should not harm traditional industries that often form the economic backbone of local communities and part of the islands’ heritage.

In many cases, respondents said they were unsure about the potential impacts of such schemes on the marine environment and called for more information to be made public at an early stage in any planning process.

Ian Bailey, Professor of Environmental Politics at Plymouth University, says: “The understandable temptation is to view island communities that are potential sites for marine renewable energy as broadly similar to each other and to any other rural community. However, such an approach may fail to capture critical features of potential host communities that might determine whether projects are supported or opposed.

“In order to avoid such eventualities, community consultations need to begin with detailed appraisals of the character, circumstances and place-based values of each community to help frame the development of MRE proposals.”

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