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Large-scale energy projects in the Baltic Sea region and Eastern Europe was discussed in a workshop.

Conference reports Large-scale energy projects: Geopolitics, legitimization and emotions

The workshop Large-scale energy project: A view from society, on 24-25 April 2014 at Södertörn University became a forum for addressing a number of significant issues related to large-scale energy projects including international cooperation, energy supply, trust, energy governance and public participation, just as local and global dimensions on the issue of interest.

Published on balticworlds.com on juni 27, 2014

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There is an inherent paradox in present-day energy governance. Despite the acknowledged need to decrease fossil fuel dependency, the global energy consumption has increased over the past decades. Responses from contemporary societies to challenges in the energy sphere and, specifically, to the ones concerning large-scale energy projects are crucial to understand the future developments in this sphere.

The workshop Large-scale energy project: A view from society, on 24-25 April 2014 at Södertörn University, brought together 15 recently defended researchers and PhD students from Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Finland, Poland, Austria and various regions in Sweden interested in social science perspectives on large-scale energy projects. The workshop focused on the Baltic Sea region and Eastern Europe. It became a forum for addressing a number of significant issues related to large-scale energy projects including international cooperation, energy supply, trust, energy governance and public participation, just as local and global dimensions on the issue of interest.

Lack of trust

As became apparent during the workshop, international, regional and local levels are important dimensions to study if one wants to understand the relation between large-scale energy projects and society. The construction of adequate mechanisms for energy governance is an issue for national government agenda but also for international cooperation and local actors. As it was argued by the participants, the starting point is to define the main concepts, such as energy security. According to Tomas Maltby there are limits in international cooperation between the EU members since there are different perceptions of the security threats. The issue of trust is not least important for establishing an atmosphere of cooperation. It was pointed out that regional cooperation in the sphere of energy is limited in the Baltic countries and Southeast Europe due to lack of mutual trust and understanding of importance of cooperation. Irina Kustova claimed in her paper that “competition among the Baltic states for domestic advantages that LNG projects might bring to has played the crucial role at the level of practical implementation of the goals set within EU common energy policy, while pro-EU solidarity has been expressed at the level of rhetorical commitments to the EU-led initiatives”.

The transformation of Eastern Europe and the expansion of EU alter the conditions for transnational cooperation. The relations with the neighboring countries such as Russia are acknowledged to be of growing importance in the analysis. Inna Chuvychkina underlined the role of technological innovations in the mode of relations between the EU and Russia that transforms the development path in energy relations.

Cooperation between different actors is however not limited by states as Stefan Bouzarovski, Manchester University, discussed using  European gas networks as an example of governance beyond the state. In the same panel, Anke Schmidt-Felzmann, Dalarna University, problematized various contemporary energy dilemmas.

Non-traditional energy sources

The development of Liquefied Natural Gas, Shale gas and renewable energy are examples of new forms or sources of energy that were discussed during the workshop.  Shale gas production in particular “will not influence only energy mix or geopolitics, but brings a huge transformation on many interconnected area of social and economic activity” as Agata Stasik claims. Renewable energy and agrofuels are seen as having the potential for transforming energy balances and solving partly energy crisis. As the presentations highlight, these possibilities are present in countries in transition as well as in the developed countries, even if they meet barriers. The intertwined relations of political and business actors are certainly complicating the decision-making processes. Examples emphasized during the workshop included cases of Serbia and Ukraine, which were discussed respectively by Emma Hakala and Christina Plank.

Legitimization and silent approval

Legitimization was another topic during the workshop. Johanna Liljenfeldt highlighted the divide between efficiency and legitimacy by stating that “development of wind power has been moving planning procedures away from more inclusive planning methods in favor of more top-down and streamlined ones”. So there is a shift from “an emphasis on legitimacy, towards a focus on efficiency”. Legitimization of decision-making processes attracts more and more attention in the political processes but also in theoretical works on social science. Further, local authorities’ legitimization of decision-making processes in relation to the Nord stream pipeline-case on the island of Gotland, and public discourses of nuclear energy legitimizing the development of nuclear energy, were discussed.  Legitimacy can also derive from the presence (or non-presence) of public discussion, as Anna-Lisa Fransson shows in her study of the silence surrounding the Swedish governments’ approval of the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. The strategy seemed to contribute to the realization of the project.

The development, implementation and administration of large-scale projects are steered by governments and corporations leaving sometimes little space for public participation and thus raising criticism on the basis of deficit of democracy. Local inhabitants react to changes implemented by politicians and have to accommodate to the transforming landscape surrounding them.

Emotions do matters

The controversies of large-scale energy projects and energy policy in general were tackled with a particular interest.  The debates were structured around several dilemmas such as the social acceptance of various energy sources, relations between multiple levels of governance, local – global dimensions, rationality versus emotions, the issues of legitimacy and efficiency. For instance, one of the topics causing a heated debate was the possibility to fulfill the energy needs with nuclear energy. Another notorious point of discussion was the divide between rationality and emotions whereas emotions could be reconsidered as values according to some of the participants.

The presentation of Anna Storm, Stockholm University, demonstrates the historical dimension of emotions and energy objects using the example of closed nuclear sites Ignalina and Barsebäck. This underlines the importance of considering historical meanings of energy production. In the same panel, Martin Hultman from Umeå University introduced his recently developed concept of eco-modern masculinity. The concept implies that in times of crisis the masculine rhetoric has better grounds to flourish since it reproduces the hegemonic structures.

While addressing the theme of the workshop from various perspectives the participants agreed on the enormous importance of continuous discussions about social aspects of large-scale energy projects and the need to keep the newly formed network alive.

NOTE: The workshop was generously supported by CBEES and PESO.  Those interested in knowing more about the workshop and the interactions can get in touch with the workshop’s  organizers, Ekaterina Tarasova and Karin Edberg; ekaterina.tarasova (at) sh.se, karin.edberg (at) sh.se.
  • Skarockater

    I really love these workshops and their heated discussions. It's rather amusing how these political and industrial groups think they can analyse the situation rationally when more often than not politicians are mostly interested in winning their next election, and the titans of industry, well, you can probably figure out what they truly want. Although the article ends reminding us about ”the enormous importance of continuous discussions”, I doubt those at the bottom of the social pyramid will be included in the future.

    ”Lack of trust” amongst partners, so, what's new? Why do you think the EU is seriously considering allowing eastern countries such as Georgia to join their ranks. One word: gas. Pipelines coming from the Caucasus region have to get across the country to reach Europe. Plus, there's reason to believe that in fact there's plenty of gas in Georgia. So, it's a win-win situation… not quite. Georgia carries a lot of historical baggage, not the least of which is his former relationship with Russia. And Russia still provides about half of the gas consumed by Europe. Talk about having leverage! Maybe now we can understand a little bit more why politicians seem so cold-hearted about this issue. This is a very interesting subject, I wish to read more about this in the future.

  • by Ekaterina Tarasova & Karin Edberg

    Karin Edberg is a doctoral student in sociology at BEEGS (Baltic and East European Graduate School), Södertörn University. Her dissertation aims to discuss local responses; resistance, normalization and legitimization, to new energy infrastructures. Ekaterina Tarasova is a doctoral student in political science, also at BEEGS, Södertörn University. Her research is devoted to the study of antinuclear movements and mobilisation in Russia, Poland and Sweden.

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