AIMS Energy, 2014, 2(4): 443-460. doi: 10.3934/energy.2014.4.443

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The discourse of "social licence to operate": case study of the Australian wind industry

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), QCAT, PO Box 883, Kenmore, QLD 4069, Australia

Social Licence to Operate is a concept from the mining industry that reflects the ongoing acceptance or approval for a development granted by local stakeholders. It is now being applied by wind farm developers. Using the Australian wind industry as a case study, this discourse analysis examined how Social Licence to Operate is perceived and operationalised, and the key themes in this conceptual and applied discourse. Discourse analysis acknowledges that language choices are not accidental and discourse reflects power relationships. The wind industry representatives interviewed considered power over the Social Licence to Operate was shared with community stakeholders. They recognised the stakeholders' power to delay or prevent projects, but rejected the notion that every stakeholder group should have veto power. Social Licence to Operate is seen by the wind industry through a business-oriented perspective, with an emphasis on business risk, and they describe the opposition to wind farms by invoking a metaphor of "battle". The industry respondents described Social Licence to Operate as incorporating the values of trust, transparency and participation—which all contribute to creating "authentic" relationships. These findings can inform Social Licence to Operate research, engagement practices, and also encourage reflection by industry representatives on their implicit intentions for stakeholder engagement.
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