Windenergy in the Netherlands: the role of public leadership and citizens initiatives

Over the last few decades, the realization that an energy transition is unavoidable, is increasingly embraced by scholars, as well as nation states and societies. Renewable energies (RE) are considered abundant and their potential is highly promising. Yet, their implementation is challenging as they are highly geographically bound. Both wind and solar power, two of the most commonly applied RE technologies, require a considerable amount of space and are visible in the everyday landscape.

While in the past wind energy development has been dominated by large energy companies, recently new actors are entering the energy arena. In Western European countries the emergence of citizen-led community initiatives and civic enterprises can be witnessed, taking over governmental tasks in providing public services in the energy sector.

Horlings wind energy in Flevoland
Horlings wind energy in Flevoland

This raises questions regarding who can and should take the lead in the context of energy transition and climate change policies. We assume that the strategy of co-production by governments and citizen initiatives can potentially result in shared leadership in solving these challenges. However there is little insight so far how public leadership can support active citizenship in sustainable energy production.

This topic has been investigated in three provinces in the Netherlands: Gelderland, Flevoland and Noord-Holland, centered around the question: How can provincial governments in the Netherlands take the lead in implementing an adaptive governance approach considering citizen-led wind energy development?

To answer this question a framework has been developed combining leadership for climate change adaptation and place leadership in the context of the energy transition. This framework can increase our understanding of the roles and actions which governments can take to improve everyday policy practices in this field. Empirically the research provides insight into the varied leadership styles of regional governments and their effectiveness in planning renewable energies.

The findings showed that provinces adopt different leadership styles, referred to as ‘facilitative decentralization’ (Gelderland), ‘deliberative innovation’ (Flevoland) and ‘authoritative reluctance’ (North-Holland). Interesting is that accommodative leadership does not guarantee that national goals will be achieved. For example Gelderland, as the largest province in the study, negotiated the lowest development target from the national government. The strategy of this province focusses on the inclusion of stakeholders and prioritizes bottom-up processes. Nonetheless, the target for 2020 has not been met.

North-Holland focused mainly on meeting the set targets, whilst participation was considered of minor importance. Even though their strategy focusses on protecting the inhabitants of the province from nuisance, a repeated critique voiced the uniformity of the strategy: No difference was made in the strict regulations between urban and rural landscapes, or between types of initiatives.

Flevoland has adopted strict policy and placement zones to govern the development of wind energy. A strategy of participation was combined with the goal of ordering the landscape. As turbines were owned by many individual owners, the province searched for collaboration and implemented a “Scale-Up, Clean-Up” strategy. Even though the inclusion of residents was a core principle, the province stayed in control and took the lead. From the interviews it became apparent that this was appreciated by wind energy developers and municipality, and they felt included.

The conclusion is that ‘accommodative’ leadership entails more than just facilitating development by setting a regulatory framework. Whilst some public authorities took on such a role, citizens initiatives might feel excluded or not willing to be engaged. To support the development of renewable energy, regional public authorities thus should not just provide regulating conditions, but also take on a more pro-active role.
See for more information the article published in Energy Policy: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2020.111249

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