National Science Foundation Grant

Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation Award #1737191, 03 May August 2017

Delays in the construction of energy infrastructure can raise energy costs, reduce electricity reliability, and cause supply disruptions. A systematic empirical understanding of the social sustainability of energy infrastructure is needed. This project develops and tests new theories about siting of electricity, oil, and gas infrastructure using a variety of data and extensive computer simulations. The Citizens and the Social Sustainability of Energy Infrastructure Siting project will provide theories, empirics, and tools to improve social welfare by shortening energy facility permitting times. The broader impacts of the project include a methodology to engage communities earlier in the siting process, help project proponents identify key concessions to impacted communities to increase acceptance, as well as reduce legal and political costs. The research will serve as the core material for a new Social Sustainability of Energy course for the Claremont Colleges. Other project outreach includes the development of the SEI project website that will host a document repository as well as interactive maps of all the energy projects for dissemination to siting practitioners and stakeholders.

The project objective is to understand and predict complex citizen opposition to energy infrastructure projects. The comparative case-study design examines citizens’ perceptions of risks and associated place-protective actions across energy technologies, integrating public acceptance surveys with case-specific data about the type of energy technology and citizen proximities. The sample frame comprises natural gas and oil pipelines, high voltage power lines, natural gas electricity generation, and wind generation projects in the western US. Seven to nine historical siting cases will be selected for which publicly-available citizen and stakeholder contact information is available. Participants will be asked to complete online surveys about risk attitudes along with behavioral, demographic, and spatial data. Infrastructure Siting (In-Site)© software will be used. This software integrates an agent-based model of stakeholder dynamics with a Geographical Information System model that structures the agents- interactions based on demographic, engineering, and spatial data. The In-Site model simulates the emergence of community-based oppositional organizations, which have been surprisingly effective in delaying or blocking energy facilities projects. Spatial statistics and econometrics will complement the agent-based modeling and allow a comparative analysis of the underlying drivers of opposition across energy sectors and siting issues.

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