Wind turbines located in the ocean contribute to the ongoing global transition to renewable sources of electricity, but further expansion of this technology will depend as much on social acceptance as on technological know-how. This article explores how underlying values and beliefs about the ocean influence public support for offshore wind energy. An intercept survey was conducted with more than 600 individuals on Block Island, site of the first offshore wind farm in the United States. Following a values-beliefs-norm framework, this survey measured respondents' underlying values, anticipated impacts of the proposed wind energy project, attachment to the island, and beliefs about the ocean. The results indicate that ocean beliefs and underlying values have direct and indirect associations with expectations and support for an offshore wind energy project development. These findings provide insights into objections that arise over offshore wind farms, by acknowledging that the probability of conflict increases when one interpretation of the marine environment is imposed on people holding different beliefs about the ocean. Understanding these dynamics and integrating them into planning dialogues may be critical for successfully navigating the broader energy transition.
Interest in producing electricity from alternative sources (i.e., not from fossil fuels) has grown dramatically in recent years. It is widely acknowledged that a wider transition to renewable energy technologies is as much a social challenge as a technical one (Szarka, 2004; Wüstenhagen et al., 2007), and public opposition is viewed as a significant barrier to specific projects. Motivated in part by a promise of reduced social conflict (Haggett, 2008, 2011), several countries have prioritized the development of wind farms (i.e., interconnected clusters of electricity-producing turbines) in the ocean. Support for moving this technology offshore is far from universal, however, and some of these projects face opposition from local and regional interests.
A broad literature examines the factors that contribute to or diminish public support for renewable energy technologies. Much of this literature focuses on wind energy, perhaps because it is a highly visible and increasingly common renewable energy technology (Devine-Wright, 2008). Researchers have identified several contributors to public attitudes towards both on- and offshore wind-energy projects, including concerns about environmental and economic impacts of projects, as well as trust in developers and other institutional factors. One theme that has received a great deal of recent attention is the role of public perceptions of and relationships with the places where these projects are sited. Much of this work has focused on place attachment, positing that individuals reject projects that threaten place-based identities. Other authors have asked whether the ocean is a place with special symbolic value, which may further influence attitudes towards offshore projects (Gee, 2010; Wiersma and Devine-Wright, 2014).
This article seeks to understand how beliefs about the ocean influence public support for offshore wind energy. In it, I report results from a survey of more than 600 individuals contacted in public locations on Block Island, site of the first offshore wind farm in the United States. Following an established theoretical perspective from environmental sociology, the values-beliefs-norm framework (Stern et al., 1995), this survey measured the importance of respondents' underlying values (guiding principles), beliefs regarding likely impacts of the proposed wind energy project, attachment to the island, and beliefs about the ocean. The results indicate that ocean beliefs and underlying values have direct and indirect associations with expectations and support for an offshore wind energy project. These findings provide insights into how public beliefs about the ocean affect beliefs about the project and, ultimately, project support or opposition. They also provide further insights on conflicts that arise over offshore wind farm siting, acknowledging that conflicts may arise when one interpretation of the marine environment is given preference over others. Understanding these dynamics and integrating them into planning dialogues are critical for navigating the broader energy transition.