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Exploring local energy justice in times of austerity: Civic energy sector low-carbon transitions in Bristol city

Lacey-Barnacle, Max 2019. Exploring local energy justice in times of austerity: Civic energy sector low-carbon transitions in Bristol city. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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The rapid rise of energy justice in recent years has been accompanied by a theoretical bias towards a ‘systems approach’, which is grounded in the dominant theoretical frameworks for understanding energy transitions. This PhD contributes ‘local’ perspectives to understandings of energy justice, through analysis of civic energy sector low-carbon transitions in Bristol City. The thesis draws on a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach with civic energy actors in Bristol, using participant observation, in-depth interviews (n=31) and a focus group (n=7) conducted over a 24-month period between 2015 – 2017. Set against a backdrop of continuing fiscal austerity reconfiguring institutional state capacity at multiple scales, alongside the simultaneous growth of the low-carbon economy, the thesis draws on three core tenets of energy justice (distributional, procedural and recognition justice) and ‘bottom-up’ approaches and pathways to energy transitions, to generate original insights into how communities, local organisations and local government are seeking to combat energy injustice and realise energy justice. The three tenets are used to analyse the critical role of prominent community and civic energy organisational structures and schemes, intermediary organisations and new forms of local ‘energy activism’. The findings show that ‘local’ energy justice connects to a powerful discourse of localism in a time of austerity, in which civic energy projects seek to challenge ‘extractive’ forms of neoliberal economic organisation and privatised ownership over the UK energy system. However, this localism is shown to critically reflect broader issues of persisting social inequalities in Bristol. Drawing on the three tenets, the emerging politics and geographies of local low-carbon energy infrastructures and initiatives are explored further through four core case studies derived from the primary data. The thesis concludes with a call to shift energy justice away from its ‘systems approach’ to a fundamentally ‘multi-scalar’ theoretical framework, recognising the importance of all scales of analysis. It also finds the integration of ‘spatial justice’ into local approaches to energy justice vital for developing the real-world applicability of the field and facilitating critical engagement with energy decentralisation, whilst offering original insights into the importance of novel organisational structures, intermediaries and civic energy networks for local energy justice. It finishes by opening up a bold new research agenda that calls for energy justice to significantly expand into spaces for innovative bottom-up approaches, in both theory and in practice, to further empower the communities at the heart of local low-carbon energy transitions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Architecture
Uncontrolled Keywords: energy justice, three tenets, civic energy, community energy, intermediaries, organisational structure, local energy networks, energy activism, transition pathways, participatory action research, austerity, spatial justice
Funders: EPSRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 1 August 2019
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2020 02:19

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