What Determines Municipal Renewable Energy Development? Insights From a Mixed-Methods Study of Municipalities in Alberta

  • Author / Creator
    Patel, Sonak
  • This thesis contributes to energy social sciences, examining the potential of municipal renewable energy projects and employing a novel theoretical framework intersecting the theory of planned behaviour and transition theory. I site this work in Alberta, a province with a carbon intensive energy system and one in which advancing renewable energy is critical. One substantial challenge to renewable development in Alberta is a lack of community support, especially as the economy and culture of the province is closely tied to the oil and gas sector. Municipal projects can align with the dimensions of justice used to define community energy, a form of renewable development that respects local values and benefits nearby community, with demonstrated potential to reduce social barriers to renewable energy development. This thesis seeks to understand what municipal decision-makers perceive as the motivations, opportunities, and challenges to developing renewable energy projects. I utilise a mixed-methods approach to do so; a survey of municipal decision-makers across the province provides a broad understanding of what motivates renewable projects in a variety of contexts, demonstrates what types of municipalities are interested in developing renewable projects and why. I build on these findings with a case study of plans, projects, and policies in the city of Edmonton using document analysis and semi-structured interviews with administrative employees, elected council members, and energy experts to informs a more in-depth understanding of the complex decision-making informing these projects. Municipal energy projects are motivated by economic benefits and as carbon reduction initiatives. While acknowledging the cultural identity of fossil fuel support in the province, participants perceive support for renewable development both within and beyond municipal boundaries. Renewable projects are perceived to be challenged by capital limitations, low payback periods, and difficulty accessing external supports and financing. While municipal energy projects were primarily discussed at the microgeneration scale, case study participants discussed the city taking a role as a community generator, but felt it was challenged by additional regulatory barriers and expertise challenges. Both survey and interview participants saw potential for partnerships with private firms, a collaboration with a hybrid of traits from the regime and niche dimensions of transition theory. These partnership approaches may be a key avenue for future municipal involvement in renewable energy, especially at the utility-scale. The findings of this study demonstrate there is substantial interest in developing municipal energy projects in Alberta, providing a key opportunity to introduce necessary renewable energy while also supporting local governments.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.