Engaging the Public on Geothermal Energy

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Conference Paper: Engaging the Public on Geothermal Energy

Public acceptance and stakeholder management are becoming increasingly important issues for successful geothermal development. However, fair engagement procedures may help to build and sustain society’s trust in geothermal projects and their owners both on local and national levels. Drawing on a case study for the geothermal project in Groß-Gerau, Germany, we propose a three-phased community engagement process for deep geothermal power plants. For new projects, it is important for the sites to be examined not only with regard to the characteristics of the reservoirs, but also with respect to the social context. Therefore, for Phase 1, we suggest conducting the social site characterization that will already be led during the exploration phase. By means of qualitative interviews and media analyses, the public’s hopes, fears, questions, concerns, and perceptions around the topic of geothermal energy can be obtained. This allows for understanding the issues on people’s mind when it comes to geothermal development in their vicinity. Stakeholders will be informed on the topic of geothermal energy, and early personal relationships with project owners will be established. Based on the findings of the social site characterization, the engagement process can be tailored to the particular situation. Phase 2 involves the establishment of a stakeholder dialogue with a broad range of participants. The aim of this forum is to take up stakeholders’ concerns and discuss them with the project owners. In a mutual learning process, project developers and stakeholders cooperate and work out solutions to tackling controversial issues (e.g., risk governance). This approach enables the integration of local knowledge, experiences, and different interests as well as an intensive exchange of information among all participants. Phase 3 consists of a civil dialogue in which the results of the stakeholder dialogue are presented and discussed with the general public. Geological and engineering fundamentals, as well as the opportunities and risks of geothermal energy for the specific region, may be among the topics reflected. Therefore, the most controversial issues identified through the social site characterization will be the focal points of these public meetings. An independent conception, moderation, and supervision of the three phases may be helpful in maintaining the credibility of the entire engagement process. Both qualitative and quantitative survey data support our claim that fair engagement procedures increase the public’s trust in and acceptance of geothermal projects.

Lasse Wallquist and Matthias Holenstein

2015 World Geothermal Congress; Melbourne, Australia; 2015/04/20

International Geothermal Association, 2015

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Lasse Wallquist and Matthias Holenstein. 2015. Engaging the Public on Geothermal Energy. In: Proceedings World Geothermal Congress 2015. 2015 World Geothermal Congress; 2015/04/20; Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne, Australia: International Geothermal Association; p. x