How Local Authorities can encourage citizen participation in energy transitions

By Dr Sioned Haf, Bangor University, Cymru | Wales

During this time in which countries across the European continent and beyond are affected by the impact of the Covid-19 virus, it is noteworthy that so many citizens have shown their ability, resilience and willingness to work collectively in caring for their communities. From voluntary food and medical prescription deliveries through to donations, campaigns and even creative collaborations – citizens have proven once again their capacity for compassion. They have also proved themselves to be extraordinarily innovative in finding ways to deliver services that bolster and support their communities in a way that addresses their specific and localised needs.

Although these positive activities are occurring under unfortunate and tragic circumstances for many, it demonstrates how society could and should work, virus or no virus. Losing sight of the proven ability of citizens to be participative actors within a society, would be a great loss. From an energy perspective, and particularly in relation to Local Authorities, this potential should be recognised and captured for future projects in order to address an even bigger world crisis that faces humanity, that of climate change.

This report, written during a secondment with Energy Cities as a part of the Energy-PIECES project developed by the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, reflects upon how Local Authorities and municipalities across Europe can support and facilitate the involvement of their citizens in energy system developments, as we transition towards low carbon societies. Citizen and community involvement has already been recognised through the EU’s Clean Energy Package and should therefore influence more Local Authorities to work in tandem with their citizens on energy issues.

The paper gives several recommendations as to how Local Authorities could introduce new governance models to encourage citizen participation in energy transitions. These include adopting more open and inclusive structural procedures that allow for the input of citizens. There is also a need for Local Authorities to actively seek out and support citizen led energy projects whose members could also participate in forming collaborative energy measures. Creative and participative measures can also allow citizens to connect related topics, such as mobility, health and how to create resilient, sustainable local economies.  

If this current crisis has shown us anything, it is the proven ability of citizens, as well as governance bodies, to cooperate in times of emergency. By recognising the need for a more participative approach to energy transition measures, a similar response to the climate emergency, with similar levels of cooperation could help to develop energy answers for the future.