Chains of trust: Lessons on public engagement from the United States’ first offshore wind farm

J. Dwyer and David Bidwell

Public acceptance of renewable energy technologies (RETs) is critical to the broader adoption of these technologies and reducing the role of fossil fuels in electricity generation. Recent investigations into the public engagement processes surrounding RET projects reveal certain procedural deficits, especially concerning procedural fairness and stakeholder trust. With this in mind, we analyze two engagement processes that led to the Block Island Wind Farm, the first operational offshore wind farm in the United States. Through semi-structured interviews we identify certain procedural techniques that allowed process leaders to first build public trust in themselves, then in the process, and ultimately in the outcome. This chain of trust was fostered through informal efforts of process leaders to meet stakeholder expectations concerning process leaders’ ability to work for the public interest, provide meaningful engagement opportunities, and to produce non-discriminatory outcomes. This case study highlights the potential of such informal actions to meet stakeholder expectations and build trust, while also empirically demonstrating specific techniques that future process leaders could employ to increase stakeholder acceptance of RETs.

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