Will communities “open-up” to offshore wind? Lessons learned from New England islands in the United States
National-scale polls demonstrate high levels of public support for developing renewable energy while local opposition has led to delays and cancelations of renewable energy projects around the world. What makes for robust public engagement processes to reject or site renewable energy projects? A literature review reveals numerous considerations, with complexity that impedes their application by practitioners. In this study, we conducted interviews and document analysis to assess the extent to which design principles from the analytic-deliberative process literature arose during public engagement on three New England islands adjacent to proposed offshore wind farms. In our study sites—amongst the array of criteria in the literature—good public engagement boiled down to two key themes: enabling bidirectional deliberative learning and providing community benefit. Decision processes perceived as effective occurred when (1) participants, including experts and local stakeholders, learned from each other while reconciling technical expertise with citizen values; and (2) outcomes included the provision of collaboratively negotiated community benefits. Our findings highlight that community benefits are not the same as benefits to groups of individuals. Attending to these key themes may improve the quality of interactions among communities, government authorities and developers when deciding if and where to site renewable energy infrastructure.