What do the inhabitants of Súdwest-Fryslân (South West Friesland) think is important when constituting the future energy policy of their municipality? That is the main question for this particular consultation.
1376 local residents took part in this consultation. The participants were asked to distribute 100 points among six possibilities for setting up the future energy policy:
- ‘The municipality takes the lead and unburdens the public’: The municipality will stay in charge and endorse what you, as a resident, think is important.
- ‘The residents do it themselves’: Residents generate their own energy and keep control of everything themselves.
- ‘The market decides’: The municipality waits and sees what the market comes up with. Market players are obliged to involve the residents in their plans.
- ‘Large-scale energy generation will take place in a small number of places’: This way the municipality avoids having wind and sun parks in a lot of different places.
- ‘Focus on storage’: Súdwest-Fryslân will become the Netherland’s battery and will ensure that the Dutch energy system is stable.
- ‘Become the energy provider for the Netherlands’: Súdwest-Fryslân will help the rest of the Netherlands to make energy generation more sustainable.
The possible choices are not the municipality’s concrete plans. They are choices that have been designed to invoke reactions from the residents. If the residents found a certain possibility attractive, they allocated a lot of points to it, and if they had concerns about a certain choice, then they gave it only a few points. Thereafter, we asked the participants to explain how they allocated their points, the concerns they have, and the opportunities they can see. By analysing the participants’ written results, we learned a lot about their motives, concerns and their core values. Participants were recruited in many ways, including via posts in newspapers and on social media, in a letter to 10,000 households, and through a market research agency.
Based on the results of the consultation, we have reached the following six main conclusions about the future of the energy policy:
- Participants see a big role for the municipality and the residents themselves.
- Participants are reticent about giving the market too big a role.
- The vast majority of the participants do not want Súdwest-Fryslân to be the energy provider for the Netherlands, but younger people are relatively positive about this option.
- The landscape is an important value and any damage to it would be a cause of concern.
- Cost-effectiveness is an important subject for the participants.
- Participants have concerns about the fairness of the distribution of benefits and burdens.
Rationale for the main conclusions
Below we substantiate each of the main conclusions, based on the results of the report.
1. Participants see a big role for the municipality and the residents themselves.
The favourite option of the participants in this consultation is the first possibility: ‘The municipality takes the lead and unburdens the public’. If we look at the participants’ motivation and concerns, there appear to be different expectations amongst them about how leadership will be interpreted by the municipality; sometimes they emphasize facilitation, then control, and then compulsion. Some form of leadership by the municipality is important for the participants. This subject is discussed in 49% of the reactions to this first possibility. The second favourite choice is ‘The residents do it themselves’. Participants feel that autonomy is important, so they can ensure that their own energy provision is sustainable, but also so that they are able to take part in the decision-making: “The residents of a certain area should have full say and control over their living environment.” We should also mention that we found indications in the research that the participants have an unduly high interest in generating their own energy. The participants that took part through random sampling allocated less points to this choice than participants who took part in the consultation of their own accord. It could well be that the ‘Residents do it themselves’ possibility is therefore somewhat less popular among the total population than it is among the participants of this consultation. For the participants, autonomy does not necessarily mean doing things individually. Cooperation is also important for 21% of the participants who want to generate sustainable energy themselves. For these participants, autonomy is ‘making decisions together’. Participants stress that the Mienskip (for people who don’t speak Friesian: the community) can generate sustainable energy very effectively, as long as they have the support of the municipality and a say in municipal policy. “The municipality has to do it together with the residents. Otherwise the municipality has too much power and the landscape will be forgotten about when money is involved (just see what is about to happen in the IJsselmeer).”
2. Participants are reticent about giving the market too big a role.
The third possibility, ‘The market decides’ is one of the least favourite options (to illustrate: 611 of the 1376 participants (44%) allocated 0 points to this possibility). Moreover, for most of the participants it is a ‘very worrying’ possibility. During the analysis of the values and concerns, it was revealed that participants are distrustful of a ‘too big a market influence’: “Ridiculous constructions from which certain people can get very rich,” writes one participant. In the eyes of the participants, it is namely the big players that aren’t originally from the region that do not always have the best intentions for the area and the environment. Participants who allocated a lot of points to this possibility see that the market can provide added value through innovation and a cost-effective energy system: “The market can provide innovative technical solutions, but the politicians have to make choices and decide what really happens.”
3. The vast majority of the participants do not want Súdwest-Fryslân to be the energy provider for the Netherlands, but younger people are relatively positive about this option.
The sixth possibility, ‘Energy provider for the Netherlands’ is the least favourite possibility. 800 of the 1376 participants (58%) allocated no points and on average participants allocated just 5 of the 100 points to this possibility. For some of the participants, this choice could be a cost-effective way of furthering the energy policy, but some participants saw a possible destruction of the landscape and the chance of becoming a sort of ‘conquered ground’typo3/ for the rest of the Netherlands as a risk. At the same time, some participants say that there is room in Súdwest-Fryslân and that this could be a way to be seen in a favourable light by the rest of the Netherlands: “If the Municipality of Súdwest-Fryslân became the energy provider for the Netherlands, this could have a good influence on how this region is regarded. Together we are stronger and in doing so we can supply the rest of the country: “Two birds with one stone.”” Young people seem to be less negative about this possibility (they allocated an average of 13 points). Compared to accessible offline consultations (such as neighbourhood evenings), a lot of young people participated in this online consultation, although, the number of young people in the consultation is relatively smaller than the number of older people, if you compare this to the total population of Súdwest-Fryslân. This is remarkable because in a similar consultation about heat transmission in Utrecht, young people were overrepresented. Under the assumption that the young people who took part in this consultation are a good representation of the youth of Súdwest-Fryslân, using a weighting method, we have calculated that the participants would have allocated an average of 6 points to this option, if young people were just as equally represented in this consultation as they are in the population as a whole. Further research can be done into whether the young people who took part in this consultation are a good representation of the youth population, or not.
4. The landscape is an important value and a cause for concern for the participants.
The landscape of Súdwest-Fryslân is very important to the participants. It is both one of the most important values in the participants’ justifications (15% of the many hundreds of justifications were on this subject), as well as one of the most-mentioned concerns (no less than 24% of the participants who noted their concerns wrote about this). The participants are scared that the look of the Friesian landscape will worsen or will even be lost completely. One participant writes about the ‘energy provider for the Netherlands’ option: “Through this, the landscape will go to wrack and ruin while Súdwest-Fryslân is a tourist attraction.” From the written answers about possibility 4, ‘Large-scale energy generation will take place in a small number of places’, we learn that clustering large-scale generation is seen by some participants as a way of protecting the quality of life and the landscape: “To avoid extensive damage to the landscape, a limited area should be “sacrificed” for the energy plans.” Some see the landscape as a chance for the energy transition: “There is plenty of space here and we have to change!” Finding a connection with the landscape by using all the water that there is in the region for generating and storing sustainable energy is seen as an opportunity for the municipality. So sustainable energy does not have to be a threat to the landscape, ‘as long as the surroundings are taken into consideration’.
5. Costs are an important subject for the participants.
Cost-effectiveness, meaning whether money for sustainability is well spent, is a recurring theme among the answers the participants gave. This theme was raised when discussing each of the possibilities. From the participants’ reactions to the first possibility, ‘The municipality takes the lead and unburdens the public’, we learn that some participants see the municipality as an efficient sustainability provider. The municipality has the knowledge and expertise to put the money to good use: “That is where the most knowledge is, or we’ll get the best advice,” some participants write. On the other hand, some participants are scared of wasting money, or they are of the opinion that the municipality can use the money better: “By this I mean that, economically, it is not ideal if the municipality makes choices that may soon be out of date. There needs to be enough room so that money can be spent in the most cost-effective way possible.” Also, under ‘The residents do it themselves’, we see that some participants see this as a cost-effective way of creating sustainability. Others appear to fear that the costs for individual households will be too high and they hope that the municipality will provide financial support. ‘The market decides’ is seen by many as the cost-effective way to attain sustainability. Participants stress that they are only talking about ‘financial costs.’ They have less faith in the fact that the market will keep the costs to the landscape and the residents in mind. We see a similar sort of reaction with ‘Large-scale energy generation in a small number of places.’ Participants indicate that this can be an effective way of creating sustainability. “Large-scale is the most efficient,” but people are scared that costs probably won’t be fairly distributed (there is more about this in the next section). ‘Focus on storage’ could be a way to maximize the return on the energy that has been generated, but participants stress that, for the time being, development costs could be high. Finally, ‘Become the energy provider for the Netherlands’. Participants who choose this one, and this is just a small group, see this as a possible cost-effective way of contributing to the local economy, as long as the income stays within the region. “A good way for the municipality to become more self-sufficient in financing a sustainable society. And it is good for employment.”
6. Participants have concerns about the fairness of the distribution of benefits and burdens.
What is striking is that the value of ‘fairness’ was much more dominant under the concerns than it was under the written reactions to the six possibilities: “I’m scared that this area will be filled with windmills for the main Dutch cities. We will have the problems and the mess; the main Dutch cities will get the ease and the money, just the same as what happened in Groningen with the gas. All of the Netherlands profited and Groningen is saddled with the problems and the damage.” The possibility that there will be an unfair distribution of benefits and burdens is therefore a very important concern. 14% of the participants who wrote about this, name this value. The fact that ‘fairness’ is not a dominant theme when the participants were asked to explain their allocation of the points to the six possibilities, suggests no single possibility is seen by the participants as a fairer option than any of the others. Although, at first glance, ‘The residents do it themselves’ could seem to be a possibility where the benefits and burdens are equally distributed (residents incur their own costs and receive the benefits), not all participants see it that way; they see that not everyone can participate because they don’t have the means, or they live in a rental property, for example. So, there are also concerns about equal access to sustainable energy. People expect that the municipality can make sure that there is a fair distribution of benefits and burdens: “Only the municipality can guarantee that the energy transition is effected fairly and justly and that people with lower incomes and little capital can also participate.” It is interesting to see that concerns about cost efficiency also often have to do with fairness. Participants don’t see the fact that costs have to be incurred as a direct problem. According to them, it becomes a problem if the costs have to be incurred by someone on a tight budget, or when a resident or a company profits more from it than the other residents. The relation between incurring the costs (investments, but also changes to the landscape), sharing the benefits, and having a say about this, is therefore an important undercurrent in the responses of the participants in this consultation.