An Empirical Analysis of Local Opposition to New Transmission Lines Across the EU-27.

Author:Cohen, Jed

    The European Union (EU) pursues an ambitious vision of its energy future. This vision is codified in the EU 2020 and 2050 initiatives which seek to increase the share of renewable sources in gross final energy consumption to 20% by 2020, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, while ensuring stable electricity provision for the future (European Commission, 2010, 2011). For EU energy goals to be realized a massive investment, estimated at [euro]150 billion by 2030, in electricity infrastructure and primarily new overhead transmission lines is required (ENTSO-E, 2014). A study undertaken by the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E), found that 18,000 km of overhead lines are necessary to accommodate the changing electricity landscape, 80% of which are directly due to the increase in renewable generation sources (ENTSO-E, 2014). Renewable generation technologies are, by nature, more disparate than conventional generators, as generation is often spread across large areas and far from centers of demand in order to maximize wind or solar exposure. The nature of renewable generation necessitates an expansion of the electricity transmission network that will link generation sites with centers of demand and enable greater market integration which will allow electricity to be shared between regions during periods of surplus production (ENTSO-E, 2014).

    Local opposition to new energy infrastructure developments has proven to be one of the central obstacles confronting renewable energy advancement and the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector in Europe. Despite impressive technical advances in wind and solar power generation, new technologies often face public opposition that can no longer be ignored (Kintisch, 2010). This fact is recognized by the European Commission: "The current trend, in which nearly every energy technology is disputed and its use or deployment delayed, raises serious problems for investors and puts energy system changes at risk" (European Commission, 2011, pg. 17). The lack of social acceptance is often attributed to a "not in my backyard" (NIMBY) attitude, since the majority of Europeans support the development of renewable technologies yet those near proposed sites often oppose such developments (European Commission, 2006). It is important to recognize that local opposition stems from legitimate concerns over the potential negative effects of new developments; effects that have been shown to create a real welfare loss to residents, for example in the form of decreased property values (Sims and Dent, 2005, 2007). Other notable causes of negative welfare effects from power lines are: diminished viewsheds, electromagnetic pollution and landscape alteration, among others (Cohen et al., 2014).

    While the issue of social acceptance hinders the expansion of many types of energy infrastructure, the controversy surrounding electricity transmission grid expansion is especially poignant given the fact that, as currently envisioned, both electricity supply security and the 'greenification' of the electricity grid hinge on increased grid connectivity (ENTSO-E, 2012). The ENTSO-E report states, with respect to grid enhancement, that "[o] verall, there has been material delay to the delivery of one third of the investments, mostly because of social resistance [...]" (ENTSO-E, 2012, pg. 14). To make matters more difficult, pylons are the industrial structure that is most strongly perceived as a negative landscape element (1) (Soini et al., 2011).

    Previous research efforts regarding local opposition to transmission lines have focused on identifying the causal factors of resistance, understanding residents' perspectives, and studying the procedural aspects of development projects (e.g. Cotton and Devine-Wright (2012); Elliott and Wadley (2012); Furby et al. (1988); Soini et al. (2011); Devine-Wright and Batel (2013); Devine-Wright (2012, 2008); Wuestenhagen et al. (2007)). (2) However, relatively little research has assessed implementable strategies for improving social acceptance of transmission lines and minimizing delays in grid expansion (Cohen et al., 2014).

    This paper begins to fill this gap by empirically testing the effect that auxiliary positive information regarding new transmission line projects has on the level of acceptance of residents. We first assess the current climate of local acceptance of new transmission line installations by implementing a survey across the EU-27. (3) This survey includes a built-in experiment to ascertain how additional positive information about the new transmission line will change the acceptance of locals. We analyze data obtained from the survey with a statistical model. Our results suggest that positive information about new transmission line developments can improve acceptance of these projects. This implies that information campaigns have a role to play in reducing delays in the energy system transition envisioned by the European Commission.

    The paper proceeds as follows: the next section describes the survey and presents summary statistics. Section 3 explains the statistical models used to analyze survey data and section 4 presents the results from this analysis. A discussion of the relevance and policy implications of these results is included in section 4.1, while section 4.2 presents a second-stage auxiliary model. Concluding remarks follow. Additional results and robustness checks are given in the Appendix.


    Data on the social acceptance of grid expansion projects come from an unprecedented survey conducted during 2012 in all EU-27 nations. (4) This massive survey effort encompassing over 13,000 interview hours and over 400,000 contact attempts yielded over 8,000 completed questionnaires with around 300 survey responses per nation. The survey obtained demographic, energy usage, and energy perception information from each individual. The survey process included strict quotas to ensure a representative sample among the population of each EU-27 nation. The variables taken from the survey and used in this analysis are summarized in table 1.

    The final survey data set included 8,336 complete observations. The data then underwent a cleaning process and some recoding to create econometrically useful variables, leaving 7,659 observations used in the final analysis. (5)

    As seen in table 2, variable means vary greatly between nations illustrating the international heterogeneity present in the EU. However, The means of age and male are similar between nations as these were two of the dimensions that had strict quotas in place during surveying in order to ensure a representative sample. A representative sample was also taken from different income levels within each country, but due to unequal wealth distribution between countries the means of income are different.

    As previous research has shown that residents' perceptions influence their level of opposition we hypothesize that positive information regarding nearby infrastructure projects will move locals closer to acceptance (e.g. Gross, 2007; Devine-Wright, 2011; Kaldellis, 2005). To test this hypothesis the survey included a built-in experiment in the form of a question regarding the acceptance of a hypothetical grid expansion project. A single project scenario, describing a hypothetical new transmission line, was presented to all respondents, with 40% of respondents receiving only the baseline scenario. Some respondents additionally received one of the three treatment scenarios, each describing a benefit of the infrastructure project. The scenarios are described in detail below:

    Baseline--"Long term reliability of the electricity system can only be ensured by a bundle of measures, such as--but not exclusively--the construction of new power lines and pylons. Please imagine that your local government announced a large program of local infrastructure investments, contributing to the enhancement of the power grid in the whole of your country. As part of this program, during the next year a high-voltage power line with standard pylons would be built in your neighborhood. This power line (including pylons) would be up to 60 meters high and be built at a distance of 250 meters from your home." Economic Treatment (T1)--This infrastructure program has significant benefits for your country's economy including, enhanced economic growth, especially in your region, resulting in the creation of new jobs and in greater independence from foreign energy supplies. Environment Treatment (T2)--This infrastructure program has significant benefits for the environment and complements your country's measures to fight climate change--the strengthening of the national electric infrastructure being necessary for increased use of renewable energy sources, such as wind power. Community Treatment (T3)--The government and electricity company would compensate you and your community by providing budget for measures to improve the quality of life in your neighborhood. Possible improvements could include the construction of recreational areas and parks, or equipment for local schools. All people living in the community would have the chance to determine how this extra budget should be used by popular vote. Next, respondents were asked the acceptance question: "How do you think YOU would react to the announcement of this power infrastructure program?" With the ability to choose between four possible reactions: "definitely not accept without opposition" (DNA), "probably not accept without opposition" (PNA), "probably accept without opposition" (PYA), and "definitely accept without opposition" (DYA). Table 5, in the appendix, shows the proportion of each response by nation as well as the sample size for each country. Table 6, also in the appendix, shows a comparison of the means of household level variables across the four...

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