Energy at the Edge: Conflicting narratives of renewable energy developments in coastal communities

Authors: Axon, S., Light, D. and Chapman, A.

Start date: 24 April 2019

Coastlines are key settings for offshore renewable energy initiatives within the broader context of sustainability transitions. However, many proposals for Blue Energy projects treat the littoral zone as a resource which can be unproblematically utilised for sustainable energy yet often neglects the specific circumstances of coastal places. Taking into consideration the importance of issues of economic, social, cultural and political marginality which often underpin local identities and consequently shape local responses to blue energy projects warrants further research attention. This paper explores issues of Blue Energy and marginality with reference to two case studies. The Navitus Bay wind park (off the coast of Bournemouth in southern England) promised abundant renewable energy but, by industrialising the open seascape of Poole Bay, the project was fundamentally at odds with Bournemouth's 'place myth' and sense of identity. Moreover, the project threatened to damage Bournemouth's fragile tourism industry while offering few obvious benefits for the local economy and society. Conversely, the Swansea Bay tidal barrage was well aligned with Swansea's identity as an industrial town and promised renewable energy combined with wider social and economic benefits (in terms of employment creation) for a deprived part of east Swansea. Furthermore, enhancing recreational opportunities at the coast the project could potentially boost the visitor economy, particularly since the barrage merely moved the shoreline further out to sea, without threatening the open vistas of Swansea Bay. This paper concludes with the argument that understanding local responses to renewable energy projects at the coast requires a consideration of broader issues of identity, marginality and place. Fuller consideration of such issues can potentially be important in generating support for Blue Energy.

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