Sunday, February 19, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Marisa McNatt, University of Colorado-Boulder, Boulder, CO
How, why and whether scientific knowledge is used in the policy-making process is embedded in social processes — or, stakeholders’ beliefs and values and interactions. Social science research on offshore wind (OSW) energy development in the U.S., or wind farms built at sea, offers lessons for improving the science-policy interface. Researchers and policy-makers have pursued OSW development in the U.S. since the early 2000s. Despite more than a decade of OSW research, the U.S. just completed its first wind farm built at sea in September 2016. Meanwhile, Europe has long demonstrated the technical and economic feasibility of OSW energy with more than 100 wind farms installed in conditions similar to the U.S. East Coast. A case-study comparison of OSW development in Rhode Island and New Jersey reveals specific insights on how social processes and the production of science can be modified to improve the use of research for realizing policy goals. Beginning in 2004, state and municipal decision-makers in Rhode Island and New Jersey commissioned a series of state-funded scientific studies and panels for pursing OSW energy development. In both states, these studies produced reports over 1,000 pages that indicated where OSW farms could be sited off the coast of Rhode Island and New Jersey, the benefits of pursuing this renewable form of energy, and the necessity of developing OSW farms for the states to meet their respective wind energy goals. Despite millions of dollars spent on OSW energy research, New Jersey has yet to install an OSW farm, whereas Rhode Island has succeeded in constructing the nation’s first OSW farm. Qualitative analysis of stakeholder documents, interviews, and observations in New Jersey and Rhode Island reveals that science co-produced, or generated by both researchers and stakeholders, is more likely to influence policy-outcomes, as: (1) scientists working directly with decision-makers are more likely to understand the spectrum of science needed for making multiple policy-decisions, (2) coproduced science establishes trust between the scientists and decision-makers, and (3) increases the rate at which policies are implemented, important for avoiding a change in political regime. Science-policy studies applied to the nascent field of U.S. OSW farm development offers lessons not only for this renewable energy field, but for scientists, in general, interested in increasing the usability of research findings in the policy-making process.