The Effect of Community Renewable Energy on Political Power - A case study of discursive power in the net-metering policy arena in the Netherlands
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In many countries, the energy transition is partly driven by distributed renewable energy (DRE) of which a growing component is community renewable energy (CRE). Often the efforts of new entrants in a policy arena are opposed by large, resource-rich incumbent actors. This can hinder the energy transition. As the amount of CRE grows, their potential to influence the political power dynamics in the energy policy arena also grows. This also occurs in terms of discursive power, which is increasingly recognized as a key dimension of power in transitions. Previous work has not investigated the potential effects of increasing CRE. This study combined power theory, discourse theory and the Advocacy Coalition Framework in an empirical discourse analysis case study of the Dutch net-metering policy arena between January 2000 and April 2018. In total 406 textual data sources were derived from Scopus (6), LexisNexis (398) and a hand search (11), using a structured data collection approach. This set of data sources was used to identify discourses and mainly consisted of newspaper articles, magazine articles, scientific articles and government reports. For each discourse the core argument, underlying policy core beliefs, actors and collective efforts were identified. These findings were then used to determine the ability of the discourses to affect the policy making process, i.e. the level of discursive power. The most prevalent discourses were “keep policies consistent” and “make solar PV financially viable”. The most common policy core beliefs were “long-term policy planning”, “active government support” and “energy security”. CRE Actors were associated with 7 of the 11 discourses and were found to have 9 of the 13 policy core beliefs. CRE actors thus actively participated in the policy arena by supporting discourses and participating in collective efforts. However, they cannot be related to any specific policy changes nor did they substantially influence the net-metering policy arena. If CRE further grows, they might be able to sustain their increase in discursive power and transfer it to other dimensions of power, such as structural or instrumental power. If this occurs they are likely to become more influential. This study also revealed unexploited common ground between CRE actors and other actors by revealing shared discourses and policy core beliefs.