Communities And Renewable Energy in UK


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Little research has been done into the actual motives underlying the local opposition found in British local communities against renewable energy schemes to be settled in their areas. Further research on the issue
would be helpful for the UK to meet their target share in the battle against climate change.
This work compiles, in a structured way, existing literature about the basic concepts of social networks and communities to be taken on for that research. It outlines the importance of communities’ involvement in
developments, and gives a range of successful cases where communities and developers have provided each other with a range of different benefits. Some lessons from the past are presented that can help
developers to assume proper methods and models for involving communities, as well as to prevent mistakes from being repeated. The document ends with some possibilities for the Government to further encourage community involvement.

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Communities And Renewable Energy in UK

  1. 1. 1 Alejo Etchart May 2009 COMMUNITIES AND RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECTS IN THE UK Executive summary Little research has been done into the actual motives underlying the local opposition found in British local communities against renewable energy schemes to be settled in their areas. Further research on the issue would be helpful for the UK to meet their target share in the battle against climate change. This work compiles, in a structured way, existing literature about the basic concepts of social networks and communities to be taken on for that research. It outlines the importance of communities’ involvement in developments, and gives a range of successful cases where communities and developers have provided each other with a range of different benefits. Some lessons from the past are presented that can help developers to assume proper methods and models for involving communities, as well as to prevent mistakes from being repeated. The document ends with some possibilities for the Government to further encourage community involvement. 1. Introduction Lovins (1976, 1977) used the term ‘soft energy path’ to describe a desirable future where energy generated by renewable sources steadily displaced centralized energy systems based on fossil and nuclear fuels. Schumacher (1974) defended small scale energy developments. Dunn (1978) discussed the appropriate technology for those developments. The issue of a focus on community scale energy generation is, therefore, not new. Nowadays, conventional energy developments are questioned (Devine-Wright 2005a), and alternative local energy schemes, where local energy users are integrated in decision-making processes, are proposed as an pre-requisite of the alternative path (Fielden 2000). Nevertheless, the British move towards a greater generation of renewable energy (RE) by communities has not been easy for developers, policy makers or communities themselves (Hinshelwood and McCallun 2001). Controversy is present in many of the local RE schemes, and the majority of the planning applications are rejected or significantly delayed due to the opposition of local communities (Devine-Wright 2005a). Consequently, the RE energy business has become increasingly risky for developers in the UK, because the financial need previous to effective development is high. Taking a planning decision through a public inquiry is costly and time consuming (Hinshelwood 2001). Few examples of RE developments exist in the UK with high levels of local involvement or leadership (Devine-Wright 2005a). Developments are more frequently led by the private sector and driven by economic and environmental incentives rather than by social concerns (Hinshelwood 2000; Devine-Wright et al. 2001), in contrast with other European countries like Sweden and Denmark (Devin-Wright 2005a). The opposition frequently found from communities to settle RE plants in their territory contrasts with the strong public support to RE schemes (Vorkinn and Riese 2001). This contrast is called NIMBYism (‘not in my backyard’): “an attitude ascribed to persons who object to the siting of something they regard as detrimental or hazardous in their own neighbourhood, while by implication raising no objections to similar developments elsewhere” (Wolsink 2006 :86). This attitude is often labelled as irrational or illogical, but this is not necessarily so: there may be rational motives to explain it (DMU 2008a). A simplistic attribution of NIMBYism may hinder the identification of the real underlying motives for it (Devine-Wright 2005b). In fact, in a study carried out by Wolsink (2000), NIMBYism only explained 4% of the variance in support, while attitude explained 28%. Other factors that may determine the attitude towards wind farms are summarized in Figure 1.
  2. 2. 2 Figure 1- Wolsink’s (2000) model of support/opposition to wind farm developments. Source: DMU (2008b) The literature has been more successful in describing perceptions of wind farms, than in than providing substantive explanations for them (Devine-Wright 2005b). Little research has been undertaken to find out the real motives for the opposition (Walker 2007), so that a theoretical gap exists that needs to be filled in (Devine-Wright 2005b). Nevertheless, what is proved is that place attachment to the area affected by the development is a significant predictor of the perceptions of new RE developments (Vorkinn and Riese 2001). The application of place theory to future studies of public perceptions of wind farms could offer more sophisticated explanations of the social and psychological bases of wind farm perceptions (MORI Scotland 2002). This work document mainly refers onshore wind turbines cases because it is the most frequent RE technology used in the UK (HL 2008). Stern (2009) says that wind energy is set to account for 8% of electricity generation in the UK in 2010, even though it is failing far behind in this target, with only 3% by the end of 2008. According to the House of Lords (HL 2008), offshore wind farms only accounted for 20.6% of total generation from wind by October 2008, but the Government has announced plans to increase the installed offshore wind capacity by forty fold. The community approach to offshore developments is also relevant when communities are affected by the offshore schemes. The underlying principles of the community approach would still remain. 2. Social networks, social capital and renewable energies “Social capital consists of the networks, norms, relationships, values and informal sanctions that shape the quantity and co-operative quality of a society’s social interactions. Social capital can be measured using a range of indicators, but the most commonly used measure is trust in other people” (PIU 2002). Higher levels of social capital make communities, and individuals within them, more able to assume responsibilities. But they can also hinder changes; for example, low educational aspirations or hostility to government could inhibit key policy outcomes within a community (Halpern and Bates 2004; Coleman 1986). A social network is a web of social relationships, which may be characterised by reciprocity, similarity, emotional closeness, geographical closeness and level of knowledge of each other (ibid.). Social networks are micro examples of social capital (House 1981). Their influence on people’s behaviour –e.g., through the views of friends and family- is generally higher than advice from governments or information campaigns (ibid.). They are always one step ahead of external developers, in that they know the communications channels, the facilities for placing a petition and the media contacts, and therefore can draw on local support very easily (Hinshelwood and McCallum 2001). According to Hinshelwood and McCallum (ibid.), social networks can be formally constituted or based on informal relations when people talk about a locality among those who live there (at back gardens, at school gates or in a pub). While formal groups mostly deal with issues that are pertinent to them, and take
  3. 3. 3 decisions through agreed procedures in arranged meetings with minuted agenda and discussions, informal ones meet unofficially, are less structured and peer pressure is often applied to influence people’s opinion. It is easier to deal with formal networks than with informal ones. Formal networks can be approached by sending information, arranging presentations and requesting their consideration. It is important to consider that each member of a formal group is also member of a range of informal networks, through which they can draw on the others’ opinions in the moment of their formulation, by giving information without which false rumours can potentially be disseminated. Leaflets and press are other ways of provide informal networks about new developments, which is necessary to enhance people’s capacity to discuss about them. On the negative side, well net-worked social campaigners have established local organisations that have successfully influenced people against RE developments. For example, Country Guardian (n.d.) is itself a social network deliberately set out to undermine the development of RE schemes that uses local social networks as its mean of influence (ibid.). They have a huge track of success in blocking RE planning applications, by undermining the organizations involved in the project, the consultation process, the RE itself, the potential benefits or broader issues (climate change problem, limits of RE, value of energy conservation over RE) (ibid.). Developers should effort in providing the community with information from the earliest possible stage, in order to tackle the actions of these undermining campaigns, because, once established, perceptions can be difficult to change, becoming a barrier to the delivery of renewable energy projects (DMU 2008a). 3. Definition and types of community The concept of community entails some combination of cooperation, participation, consensus within locally bounded networks, self-determination, ownership and local benefit (Hunter 2006). Communities are formed by people who have things in common (Hinshelwood and McCallum 2001). Hunter (2006) says that the concept of community can be understood under different rationales, among which: market (e.g. investors and entrepreneurs), legal (e.g. non-profit organizations), political (e.g. public opinion), physical (e.g. location) and others. Walker (2008) differentiates between communities of locality and communities of interest. The latter refers to groups joined together by a common interest, not necessarily local to each other (DTI 2000). Hinshelwood and McCallum (2001) think that communities who live nearby RE schemes (communities of location) must be addressed primarily, because they are the ones that will be most affected and whose power can most either support RE schemes or be damaging to them. Nevertheless, communities of interest may also play a significant role, as in the cases of groups of investors dispersed geographically, or networks of protestors. In all cases, communities are manifestations of social networks, and may affect and be affected by RE projects, as shown in section 4. 4. Importance of communities 4.1 Relevance of the scale When communities are assumed as stakeholders, they pass from being seen as obstacles to being seen as potential catalysts for change (Hinshelwoold and McCallum 2001). The skills, knowledge, motivation and commitment that may exist within communities open a wide range of ways in which they can get involved in RE schemes (ibid.). Soft energy paths with communities’ involvement in local RE schemes offer greater hope for achieving the sustainability goals than our current energy system (Schumacher 1974; Hines, 2001). In this sense, communities can contribute to solve the environmental concerns. But Gardner and Stern (2002) say that most of other environmental concerns are not solvable by community initiatives. Nevertheless, there are examples where communities have contributed in further aspects than energy schemes (see section 7).
  4. 4. 4 4.2 Impacts of renewable energy projects in communities 4.2.1 Positive impacts There are many ways in which a RE development can positively impact a community: - Creating jobs (Walker 2008; THC 2004). - Lowering energy prices (ibid.). - Increasing the local security of energy supply, when the energy is to be consumed locally (ibid.). - Diversifying of the local economy (ibid.). - Regenerating under-utilised lands (THC 2004). - Improving infrastructures (Hinshelwood and McCallum 2001). - Offering funds (Walker 2008; Walker and Devine-Wright 2008; DMU 2008a; THC 2004) - Offering ‘goodwill’ contributions when the development involves a long-term impact in the local environment (THC 2004; Walker 2008). - Offering incomes from the sale of the excess of electricity that may be agreed with the developer (FREE 2006; Walker 2008) - Contributing towards Local Agenda 21 objectives (Hinshelwood and McCallum 2001) - Building capacity in local people when they are trained to take part in the operation of the scheme (ibid.) Walker (2007) gathers some case studies from England and Wales where these and other benefits have been achieved with the community involvement: - Supplying affordable heat for a village hall and for homes with poor existing heating systems: ground source heat pump in Gamblesby and biomass district heating network in Llanwdynn (see EST 2009a). - Supporting local forestry and regenerating the local economy: biomass district heating network in Kielder (see TC n.d.). - Providing a new income stream for local farmers: three grid connected 1.3MW wind turbines in Moel Moelogan (see AA 2008). - Sustaining facilities for a remote rural community: PV panels and biomass boilers in Falstone. 4.2.2 Negative impacts Devine-Wright (2005b) gathers some potential negative impacts of wind turbines in communities: - The main impact is the issue of visual perception. Thayer and Hansen (1988) say that this perception can be based on physical or on symbolic attributes. Wolsink (2005) says that symbolic attributes (association with other images, either positive or negative) may be determinant in the attitude towards a scheme. - Noise made by rotating blades, including effects on people’s health. - Threat to birds and other wildlife. - Interference with TV reception. People may also oppose because they feel they have a lack of control over the planning process. Three possible reasons can be found for that perception (DMU 2008d): - A strong feeling of place attachment (see section 4.2.2). - Poor consultation, potentially due to: • Inadequate communication skills of planning professionals • Distrust between residents and decision makers (Macnaghten et al. 1995) • Developers’ scepticism about the need to involve the community (Devine-Wright et al. 2001) • Structure of UK planning process: ‘decide-announce-defend’ as opposed to ‘consult-consider-plan- proceed’ (Bell et al. 2006). This structure may change with the approval of the new Planning Act, now in progress (OHLC 2008). This act might, nevertheless, reduce the opportunities for people to have a say into planning decisions that will impact upon their local areas (DMU 2008a). - Poor communication, due to the lack of possibility for individuals to express their opinions, the action of local media more interested in controversy than in a balanced debate, or the lack of real interest of individuals in understanding the issue. For Hinshelwood and McCallum (2001), people oppose to new developments for all sorts of reasons, but basically because they imply a threat on some element of their lives, particularly when they have a feeling of place attachment that can be threatened by RE developments (Altman and Low 1992).
  5. 5. 5 4.3 Impacts of communities in renewable energy projects Communities may impact RE projects in different ways: - Actively seeking projects to be deployed in their area (Hinshelwood n.d.) - Helping to overcome obstacles, in the planning permission stage (Token 2005; Bell et al. 2005; Broome 2000) - Contributing to developments with values within the community, when this is involved in planning or management. This involvement has important benefits (Gardner and Stern 2002): • Helps the development to be built on already existing social structures. • Makes most costs and benefits occur locally, therefore internalising externalities. • Favours a more effective management over long periods, by integrating social values into decision processes and providing institutional legitimacy. • Encourages unselfishness, by promoting democracy and procedural fairness. • Has a low enforcement cost, because it raises public trust and confidence in decisions and decision makers. • Brings environmental and social benefits. - On the negative side, hindering developments or preventing them from implementation (Walker 2007). 4.4 Value of community involvement: conclusions Communities and RE projects have big potential for giving value to each other. Further, community involvement stimulates the market for renewable technologies, which is needed in order to meet the objective for 2020 of 20% electricity generated by RE (Walker 2007). It also promotes a more informed public debate about future patterns of energy generation and use (DMU 2008a), the importance of which has been outlined by British institutions (RCEP 2000; PIU 2002). Nevertheless, as gathered by DMU (2008c), the public involvement in RE developments also presents limitations and disadvantages: - It is more feasible to occur when resources and pollution are contained in small area (Gardner and Stern 2002). - Current social trends are destroying conditions for community management (ibid.). - Shared values and norms may no longer exist within communities (Brindley n.d.). - Absence of local institutions and rules for self-management may make common resource management unrealistic (ibid.). Driving a planning decision through a public inquiry is costly and time consuming (Hinshelwood and McCallum 2001). However, the acceptance of the local community is needed to achieve a successful implementation, in order to avoid a feeling of imposition with little benefits accrued back to the community (Broome 2000), which could result in community’s opposition to the project. Daugaard (1997) shows that public perception of wind farms in Denmark changed with community involvement. Hinshelwood and McCallum (2001) suggest that if as much rigour was applied to the social aspects of RE schemes as to the technical and environmental aspects, then the applications would be substantially easier and ultimately less costly. They conclude that involving local people is cost effective. 5. Involving communities The involvement of local communities in RE schemes to achieve the positives commented in sections 4.2.1 and 4.3 can be achieved through several models of ownership (Walker 2008): cooperatives, community charities, development trust or shares owned by a local community organisation. The latter way has been used to gift shares, or one or more turbines, to the general community, tying it closely to the performance of the production scheme. Other types of involvement without ownership are also possible (see sections 5.1 and 5.2). The needs, characteristics and type of community (location or interest) condition the options available (ibid.).
  6. 6. 6 Research suggests that three prerequisites are needed to gain public support to RE developments (DMU 2008a): - Public awareness of energy issues and of the role of renewables in reducing emissions. - Design of the scheme in relation to the site characteristics. - Credible local participation process. Fairness in giving to all interested, concerned or affected parties a participative role in decision-making process, as well as competence in the application of all the reasonably knowable technologies, are some criteria for successful a participation. The presence of all three factors cannot guarantee a successful development, but the evidence says that they help a great deal (ibid.). Levine (1986) thinks that the characteristics of communities most likely to be successful are: - Being small (200 to 1000 people). - Sharing values and norms. - Aligning individual and collective interests. - Mixing collective control with some degree of individual autonomy. - Effective sanctions for rule breaking. - Appropriate conflict resolution strategies. These characteristics suggest that reinforcing the community’s internal cohesion should be effective in promoting small-scale RE developments. 5.1 Involvement via information, consultation or participation Davidson (1998) differentiated four levels of involvement, with several sub-levels each (Figure 2): - Information: quality and quantity of data disseminated about the development. - Consultation: dialogue between community and developer for the latter to consider relevant opinions for developing the scheme. - Participation: community influence in decision making processes. - Empowerment: community control over the scheme. Figure 2- The wheel of empowerment (Davidson 1998) Source: The University of Manchester (n.d) 5.2 Involvement on process vs. participation in outcomes Walker and Devine-Wright (2008) superimposed over two axes, measuring participation and outcomes, three groups of different ideas of what community RE means for members of a community, for a wind farm project in Northern England (Figure 3). They found that some think that a community project should particularly mean a high grade of local participation in the planning, setting up or operation (viewpoint A). Others were less concerned with who participates in the project, provided that it benefited the community, (viewpoint B). Finally, others were more flexible in their conception and admitted any type of community involvement always meant the project went
  7. 7. 7 ahead and drove to something productive and useful (viewpoint C). The authors’ personal assessment is mixed: they give weight to the Government guidance about the distribution of the benefits to communities (CSE et al 2007), and also encourage the involvement of local people in the process for getting greater acceptance and support. Figure 3- The meaning of RE in relation to project process and outcome dimensions. Source: Walker and Devine-Wright (2008) 6. Conclusion about community involvement As it has been shown before, and officially stated (DTI 2003; ODPM 2004; DEFRA 2004), community involvement that gives to it some degree of control will provide the community with a sense of satisfaction that will not only benefit developers and communities, but also help to mitigate the climate change. 7. Lessons from the past In the mid-1990s, a developer sought to install 17 turbines in the east of Scotland, 3km from the nearest town. The project, according to developer, had neglible impacts on wildlife and few problems for noise or visual intrusion. Little public consultation was done. The planning permission was refused (Devine-Wright et al. 2001). Walker (2008) thinks that things are changing in the UK, even though the progress made over ten years is very low. He reflects that in the last years a range of community involvement models have demonstrated to be successful in the UK. The key question for Walker is to what extent those cases can be replicated. Evidence of a replication process is emerging (ibid.). Baywind Energy Co-operative (BECL 2007) is an example of innovative co-ownership under a co-operative formula. After several successful wind farm projects (EST n.d.), they set the company Energy4All (Energy4All 2007) to support other co-operative wind farm projects. Successful model replications have been made in Bro Dyfi (Wales), Westmill (Oxfordshire) and Boyndie (Aberdeenshire) (ibid.). The case of Awel Awan Tawe (AAT) (Hinshelwood and McCallum 2001; Hinshelwood n.d.; Devine- Wright 2005; AAT n.d.) has become a paradigmatic example in the UK for community projects development. In the semi-rural area of the Upper Aman and Tawe valleys there was a locally identified need of funding for regeneration, and high unemployment. The idea of a wind farm arose as a way to help the valleys develop. The importance of informal networks and peer pressure was proved when the introduction of the idea led to a strong local anti-campaign, which even caused those in favour of the project to feel excluded as a result of their views. After the planning permission was refused in 2005, a
  8. 8. 8 community approach was undertaken. The needs of the community were identified. The residents’ control of the farm influenced people’s view of it, and AAT could overcome their initial resistance. The planning was approved one year later. The case can provide lessons for the future in: - The importance of local involvement in processes in the development planning, so that it can be tailored to meet local needs; and in the outcomes. - That communities are not homogeneous in their priorities. - That the level of local control, input and benefits will determine the level of support from communities, and therefore also the extent to which the project can be beneficial to them. The case of Swaffham (Norfolk) (Hinshelwood n.d.) also shows how RE developments can report high benefits to the community. The first turbine was controversial when installed in 1999, but soon won over the local community, who quickly recognized it as a source of civic pride rather than an eyesore. The boost to jobs and to the local economy, and the creation of a successful environmental education centre, made the town councilors vote unanimously in favor when it came to a second turbine. Things kept on growing satisfactorily. Today, the scheme produces heat and power 1,258 homes (75% of population), and has one of the highest wind turbines in the UK (85m). On the economic side, Walker (ibid.) outlines the need of viability for small scale installations that currently do no break even without subsidies, particularly where developments are based around generating a return to community investors. The Energy Saving Trust (EST 2005) is optimistic on technology improvements to reduce costs in the next years. On the other side, the economic viability of RE projects depends largely on the prices of traditional fuels, which have proved to be very volatile in the last years (Oil Marketer 2009). As per the type of locations, according to Walker (2008), nearly all the activity in this field is being developed in rural areas. Part of the key to wider diffusion of RE is the involvement of the urban environment. Solar harnessing technologies, CHP plants and disctrict heating networks have large potential for it. Castlemilk urban wind farm case in Glasgow is proposed by Walker (ibid.) as an innovative example of an urban, community-managed RE development. Cuba provides an example of what small urban communities can do not only in community RE schemes, but also in other issues of sustainability like neighbourhood’s urban agriculture and permaculture in general (The Power of Community 2006; Bermejo 2008). At semi-municipal levels, community actions that affect other issues of sustainability (responsible consumption, public transport or land distribution) have been implemented; not only within Cuba, but also within Denmark, Sweden, towns involved in Transition Towns and Post Carbon Cities movements, and a wide range of American and European regions, different community approaches to tackle climate change have been successfully implemented (Bermejo 2008). 8. Government policy Since 2000, the UK Government has sought to develop community renewable energy through support schemes and funding programmes (Walker et al. 2007), outlining the virtues of community-based distributed energy, contribution to economic regeneration, social cohesion and public understanding and support for renewable energy (DTI 2000, 2006). Nevertheless, Government programs have not prioritized community ownership as a key feature (Walker et al. 2007; Walker and Devine-Wright 2008). The Community Renewables Initiative (CRI) played an important supporting, handholding and networking role in England, and the decision not to renew its funding it in 2007 left an important gap that the Community Action for Energy (CAfE) (EST 2008) has not filled in (Walker 2008, Walker and Devine- Wright 2008). The CAfE provides networking and information, but lacks not only funds, but also regional support (ibid.). By contrast, the funding support given by the Scottish Community and Household Renewables Initiative (SCHRI) (EST 2009) has been expanded. “Scotland provides an example that the rest of the UK could do well to follow” (Walker and Devine-Wright 2008 :500).
  9. 9. 9 Finally, the quota system followed in the UK to remunerate the RE sold to the national grid is said by many to be less effective than the feed-in-tariff (FIT) model followed by most European countries (EPIA 2007) in providing the generators with security and promoting technological improvement (HC 2007). By reducing the uncertainty in the incomes, this shift would positively affect communities’ involvement. 9. Conclusions The British path to a substitution of conventional energy sources by RE often faces the opposition of local communities that, even though in favour of RE, do not want them to be settled in their areas. Understanding the running principles of social networks and communities is needed to strenghten communities involvement in RE developments, and to mitigate that opposition. When both developers and communities have a range of benefits from community involvement, the process to increase the share of renewables gets reinforced. This increase is needed for the UK to meet their objectives. Some successful and varied benchmarks of community involvement exist in the UK that offer lessons for new developments. Policies could do more to favour higher degrees of community participation, therefore increasing the UK’s contribution to tackle the climate change. Word count: Main text net of citations: 4,049. Citations: 368. References: 1,489 REFERENCES - References and citations are given following the Harvard system of referencing (DMU 2008) AA- ASHDEN AWARDS FOR SUSTAINABLE ENERGY (2008) Cwmni Gwynt Teg cooperative, UK. Ail Wynt project, Moel Moelogan Wind Farm. [WWW] Avaliable from: [Accessed 28/04/09] AAT- Awel Aman Tawe (n.d.) Awel Amman Tawe community energy. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed 30/04/09] ALTMAN, I. and LOW, S. (1992) Place Attachment. New York: Plenum. ARNSTEIN, S. (1969). A Ladder of Citizen Participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planning, 35(4), 216-224. AUBREY, C. (2003) Who'd like a turbine? [WWW] Greenfutures. Available from: [Accessed 30/04/09] BECL- BAYWIND ENERGY CO-OPERATIVE LIMITED (2007) About us [WWW] Available from: [Accessed 01/05/09] BELL, D., GRAY, T. and HAGGET C. (2005). The social gap in wind farm siting decisions: explanation and policy responses. Environmental Politics 14(4) pp.460-477. BERMEJO, R. (2008) Un futuro sin petróleo. Colapsos y transformaciones socioeconómicas. Madrid: Los libros de la Catarata. BRINDLEY, T. (undated). Village and Community: Social Models for Sustainable Urban Development? Unpublished manuscript. BROOME, L. (2000) Local renewables: project review. In: Natta local renewables conference report. UK: Opend University. CSE- CENTRE FOR SUSTAINABLE ENERGY, GARRAD HASSAN AND PARTNERS LTD., PETER CAPENER and BOND PEARCE LLP (2007). Delivering community benefits from wind energy development: a toolkit. Report for the Renewables Advisory Board and DTI. London: DTI COLEMAN, J. (1988) Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital. American Journal of Sociology, 94, supplement S95-S120. COUNTRY GUARDIAN (n.d.) Country Guardian’s website [WWW] Available from: [Accessed 03/05/97] DAUGAARD, N. (1997) Acceptability Study for the use of Wind Power in Denmark. Copenhagen: Energy Centre Denmark. DAVIDSON, S. (1998) Spinning the wheel of empowerment. Planning, 4, 14-15.
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