Discourses of energy infrastructure development: A Q-method study of electricity transmission line siting in the UK

M. Cotton, P. Devine-Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The construction of new electricity-transmission infrastructure is construed in UK energy policy documents as necessary for achieving government targets to increase low-carbon electricity provision to combat climate change and ensure long-term energy security. Siting high-voltage overhead lines and substations is publicly controversial, however, due to their potential environmental, social, and economic impacts. Also controversial are issues of governance, procedural justice, and technological choice in decision making, particularly in light of recent legislative changes to the planning of nationally significant infrastructure projects in the UK. This study uses the Q-method to assess the discourses emerging from stakeholder and local community actor responses to line siting in the context of proposed transmission network upgrades in the southwest of England to support a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The analysis reveals three discourses, representing divergent positions on the adequacy of existing procedures to enable community participation, trust in network operators, the kinds of system configurations (centralised versus decentralised) required to meet the challenges of climate change and energy security, and the local impacts of overhead lines. Whilst the profile of how diverse respondents loaded upon each discourse showed expected patterns, the range of positions adopted by local residents support previous studies showing the limits of the ‘NIMBY’ conceptualisation of local protest. Whilst greater information provision and more upstream citizen participation in contexts of transmission line planning is recommended to enhance public trust, the limitations of such an approach in the absence of greater clarity at the national level regarding the configuration of future energy systems is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)942-960
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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