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Obtain and Maintain a Social License to Operate, or Turn Out the Lights

Social License to Operate

In the recent Hydro and Ocean Power: Untapped Renewable Resources? [WEBCAST] , William Rex of the World Bank pointed out the necessity of any energy regime to acquire and maintain a Social License to Operate.

A Social License to Operate (SLO) is defined as existing when a project has the ongoing approval within the local community and other stakeholders, ongoing approval or broad social acceptance and, most frequently, as ongoing acceptance.

Forbes magazine points out that: “Over the last few years, SLO has become an imperative for corporations in the resource extraction sector that require support from local communities to secure financing and government approvals for their projects.”

This limitation is not unique to the extractive industries.

Ubiquitous smoking bans demonstrate how an activity that was once widely accepted no longer is. 

“Governments around the world have passed measures to phase out incandescent light bulbs for general lighting, to encourage the use of more energy-efficient lighting alternatives. Phase-out regulations effectively ban the manufacture, importation or sale of current incandescent light bulbs for general lighting. The regulations would allow sale of future versions of incandescent bulbs if they are sufficiently energy efficient,” Wikipedia.

G20 leaders have agreed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies in an effort to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 10% or more by 2050.

In the developed countries significant efforts are being made to phase out coal.

Exxon Valdes, Deepwater Horizon, tailings ponds, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions are some of the reasons for current calls to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Water, fugitive gas and seismic concerns weigh on the natural gas boom.

Austria, Sweden, Italy, Belgium and Germany have begun to phase-out nuclear power.

Joe Romm, recently posted, Pandora’s Promise: Nuclear Power’s Trek From Too Cheap To Meter To Too Costly To Matter Much.

Renewable energy alternatives are not immune.

As Lewis Perelman recently pointed out on these pages, many “greens” do not consider hydropower to be ‘renewable.’ Indeed, in many places they oppose hydropower development and even seek to dismantle existing dams.

Wind, when it blows, has widely ranging intensity and output potential. Many consider wind turbines a visual blight and they are noisy. They kill birds and bats. It takes a lot of them to produce enough power to service a small community.

The sun doesn’t shine at night and weather can block solar panels during the day. Large scale solar projects take up significant acreage and upset precipitation and drainage patterns.

In the case of hydro, wind and solar, many believe Nature should remain untouched.

As pointed out here ocean thermal energy conversion is the base load renewable energy source with the greatest potential but it too has problems. Using large amounts of cold, nutrient rich water from the deep can negatively impact sea life, create ocean dead zones and release dissolved carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

These drawbacks are all some need to call for an international ban on OTEC by the International Maritime Organization.

There are solutions to OTEC’s problems.

There are solutions to many of the concerns of other approaches as well.

They are not being implemented.

Part of the problem is sunken costs. When government and industry make an investment they are reluctant to write-off their investment. They are more likely to pour money into trying to rectify the problems they encountered in the initial venture than to try a new approach that could also fail.

Trial and error is intrinsic to the innovation process. That is how Thomas Edison discovered the filament for the incandescent light bulb that we are now trying to phase out.

Trying the same thing over and over again though and expecting a different result is one definition of insanity.

Entrenched Interests are also a drag on innovation.

The Internet is a powerful countermeasure. Forums like the EnergyCollective showcase new ideas that either wilt in the spotlight of critical analysis or gain the advocacy necessary to advance.

Every form of energy has its drawbacks. What will succeed is the ones that best meets the terms of the Social Contract.

Without meeting those terms an industry is either dead or soon will be.

There are plenty of alternatives and innovators anxious to bring them forth.

In this day and age, negotiating the best terms of the Social Contract is ninety percent of the battle.

Photo Credit: Social License/shutterstock

Jim Baird's picture

Thank Jim for the Post!

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Jessee McBroom's picture
Jessee McBroom on Sep 25, 2013 1:31 pm GMT

Thanks for the post Jim. A social license to operate an industry is an inherent neccessity when morallity succumbs to the pursuit of financial gain in industry.

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