7 November 2018

‘Government insufficiently involves citizens in placing windmills’


Sanne Akerboom, researcher at the Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law and the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development recently obtained her PhD, which investigated how the Dutch government makes decisions regarding windmill parks. Akerboom concludes that these decisions do not necessarily cohere with democratic ideals.

The Dutch government wants to stimulate the transition from fossil fuels to greener and more sustainable alternatives, but regularly stumbles into citizen protests. For example, last September saw a large petition in Rosmalen against the building of a windmill park. Policy concerning renewable energy is increasingly shaped on the international level, while execution and consequences usually take place on the local level. On the local level governments should increase citizen involvement, argues political scientist and lawyer Akerboom. She successfully defended her PhD dissertation Between Public Participation and Energy Transition: The Case of Wind Farms in October, and since then has regularly appeared in the media.

Protesting windmills

The landscape is changing because of the emergence of windmills. There are cases of damage by the wind turbine blades and noise complaints. Sometimes participation options feel like ‘checking a box’. These are all arguments for citizens to protest. The government rushes in order to reach the climate goals and the general public feels this pressure. Sometimes people already protest wind turbines on the local level, even before concrete plans are presented.

Public participation has to change and improve

“The limited options for public participation concerning decision-making regarding windmill parks do not meet democratic theories or good governance,” Akerboom says. There are several ways to shape this public participation, but the current ways are not sufficient. Mainly because societal acceptance is essential for the successful transition to sustainable energy, this problem deserves more attention.

Sanne Akerboom will continue to research the energy transition and energy law. She was a participant at the young climate table and is connected to strategic themes Pathways to Sustainability and Institutions for Open Societies of Utrecht University.