Date of Award:

2017

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology

Advisor/Chair:

Richard Krannich

Abstract

Increased use of renewable energy sources in the generation of electricity isa crucial component of transitioning to a less polluting energy system in the United States. Technologies like solar photovoltaic cells and wind turbines are being deployed at a rapid rate around the country, which means that an increasing portion of the public is becoming aware of renewable energy systems. The construction of these new industrial facilities has resulted in a variety of public reactions, positive and negative. Citizen opposition has been widely observed toward a variety of renewable energy facilities, and citizen groups can influence policy-making at the national, state,and local levels. Further research is needed to understand under what circumstances the public may take oppositional stances.

To examine this topic, I analyze public perceptions of renewable energy using three different datasets. First, I used data from a survey conducted in 2014 in five communities in Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho experiencing renewable energy development(n=906). This dataset allowed me to untangle what factors help explain both individual as well as community-level variation in support for renewable energy. Second, I employed nationally representative survey data (n=13, 322)collected from 2008 to 2015 to examine the influence of a number of factors hypothesized to shape individuals’ level of support for renewable energy policies including socio-demographic characteristics, political beliefs, belief in anthropogenic climate change, and nearby extractive industry activities. Last, I analyzed discourse about renewable energy in sixty-one semi-structured interviews with individuals representing various community sectors in three energy-producing rural communities in Utah.

My research findings, on a whole, suggest that several place-based factors are significant in shaping public opinion about renewable energy, including community experience with renewable energy and local economic reliance on extractive industries. I also find pervasive climate skepticism across study sites. These findings indicate the need for broad-based and non-partisan discursive frames for renewable energy. Last, these findings speak to the importance of the ‘just transitions’ concepts, and the need to incorporate those communities most marginalized by the current system of fossil fuels extraction and production as society moves forward toward a cleaner energy economy.

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