Using a Clinical Approach to Accelerate Just Energy Transitions
National policy, under the Biden administration, is focused on accelerating clean energy production as a key component in meeting the United States’ emission and decarbonization goals. With the alignment of need, funding, and technology, why has the transition to a cleaner energy future been so slow?
When proposing the creation of a new energy facility, existing siting regulations often do not require projects to adapt or evolve their plans to account for negative externalities for surrounding communities. Ignoring stakeholder concerns about possible adverse environmental and aesthetic impacts, potential reductions in property value, perceived or real threats to safety and public health, inadequate Tribal consultation, or lack of public accountability can lead to resentment and resistance. This friction translates into local resistance and slowing of the needed changes.
In a paper for Cell Reports Sustainability, a team of MIT researchers documents growing resistance communities who perceive the renewable energy facility process as inequitable or unfair as well as a pathway to facilitate more equitable and collaborative solutions. “In a typical renewable energy siting process, a developer proposes a new project, prepares initial assessments, and seeks permits before any substantial engagement with local stakeholders begins. Then, formal public meetings allow residents and business owners to object, but do not require collaborative problem-solving, joint fact-finding, or discussion of possible changes in the proposed plan,” says Jungwoo Chun, a lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and co-author of the paper. “Creating a more equitable and efficient process for siting renewable energy facilities is essential to achieving a just energy transition. Future facility siting procedures should take account of the multiple dimensions of energy justice.”
“Given the unique circumstances surrounding opposition in each locality, case-by-case consensus building—rather than a general technical or procedural solution—is needed to broker fair and efficient agreements. We propose a clinical approach to siting large-scale renewable energy projects,” says lead author and Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, Lawrence Susskind. “In the clinical model that we piloted at MIT, a university or college clinic would partner with a professional mediator to convene the relevant participants. Clinics can provide a place where all relevant stakeholders can meet to discuss their interests, concerns, and differences to facilitate productive discussions about redesign or relocation of a facility by those stakeholders.”
In addition to Chun and Susskind, the research team includes David Beron, Anushree Chaudhuri, and Sanjana Paul.