Class of 1960s Lecture: Roopali Phadke on “Landscapes of Power: Wind Energy and the Politics of Home Rule”

Roopali Phadke, is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Macalester College. She studies political economy, science, and technology through the lens of environmental studies. Some of her work has focused on wind energy development, local place politics and energy production. On March 10, 2014, Phadke spoke about her work on the landscape and communities of wind energy.

The Cape Wind Project and the heavy push for the Environmental Impact Assessment of the project by the local residents first sparked Phadke’s interest. She believed the conflict was more complex than just NIMBYism and wanted to study how local politics affected the development of wind energy. Over the past decade, her research has developed into two large projects. The first project questioned, “Why and how are communities contesting wind projects?” The goal was to develop case studies of contested projects across the U.S. in order to understand the broader policy context. Through her research, Phadke noticed that the controversial projects were densest in the Northeast and now more showing up in the Midwest and the upper Midwest. She learned that there were many factors affecting public perceptions including: physical, political, socioeconomic, symbolic, local, and personal.

The second part of her research asked, “What kind of projects will rural communities support?” and “What kind of communities support wind projects?” The goal for this phase was to create a deliberative model where participants considered if wind energy was appropriate for their communities. She wanted to look for the best moments to engage communities to think about emerging techniques and to see if a community-based approach can produce a thoughtful influence on regulatory decisions. One part of her research took place in the Berkshire region: the Western Massachusetts Wind Energy Symposium that deliberately brought together a community representative of different demographics to discuss wind energy with the help of facilitators. Phadke’s research concluded that the most important concerns were local control, public transparency, and enforceable performance standards.

According to Phadke, there should be a shift in the way wind energy is developed from the current developer-driven system of looking at the existing transmission capabilities and wind map to working with the communities in order to create a wind energy program that will address the dominant concerns of transparency, scale, and home rule. Phadke said that she was optimistic about community-based research and could see it being particularly beneficial in ordinance planning.

By Helen Song ’14