The Socio-Technical Transition to Renewable Energy and Its Implications for the Maintenance and Dismantling of Inequalities: A Comparative Case Study of "Transition Towns"

Friday, 20 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Lauren CONTORNO, Northeastern University, USA
This paper illuminates the obstacles facing the labor and environmental movements in their fight for a just transition to a renewable energy economy at the local level through a comparative case study of two New England “transition towns:” one that has since replaced its decommissioned coal plant with a solar farm, and the other that is still in the midst of its decommissioning and reuse planning. Drawing on participant observation, content analysis of public planning documents, as well as interviews with grassroots environmental activists, local and regional government officials, union members, and private industry, I explore and compare 1) the mechanisms by which local labor, community, and environmental organizations are included/excluded from corporate and municipal planning decisions regarding the decommissioning and replacement of coal plants, 2) the discourse employed by private entities, government institutions, and community organizations to shape and mobilize support for transition initiatives, and 3) the varying conceptualizations of energy justice held by different stakeholders. I ground my discussion in existing theories environmental justice, and use a post-structural approach to examine the role that neoliberal development ideology/discourse plays in shaping the political solutions deemed feasible or necessary during reuse planning. This project is one piece of my ongoing dissertation research, which seeks to bridge the applied policy literature on socio-technical transitions with the environmental justice and political ecology traditions, laying the foundation for an interdisciplinary public sociology of climate change mitigation that is theoretically robust and critically informed. Such research can be used to inform policymakers and activists alike as to how social, economic, and environmental inequalities can avoid reproduction in the political transition to a low-carbon society.