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Northeastern expert writes first review of new energy democracy movement

New research from a Northeastern sustainability expert examines the energy democracy agenda in the United States in hopes of giving voice to an emerging movement that links social justice and equity with energy innovation.

Jennie Stephens, Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy and associate director of the Global Resilience Institute, has partnered with Matthew J. Burke, a graduate student at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, to increase the visibility of the energy democracy movement. This new movement connects social justice with the transformation toward renewable-based energy systems by resisting the fossil-fuel-dominant energy agenda while reclaiming and democratically restructuring energy regimes.

Published on October 24 in ScienceDirect, their paper, “Energy democracy: Goals and policy instruments for sociotechnical transitions,” is the first review of the movement’s goals and policies. Through a policy mix lens, the duo’s research clarifies and assesses the core claims and policy instruments advanced by its advocates, contributing to policy design for renewable energy transitions and energy democracy.

“This paper is particularly relevant because right now the U.S. federal government is embracing a national energy policy focused on energy dominance rather than energy democracy,” said Stephens.

Energy dominance, according to Stephens, can be viewed as the antithesis of energy democracy representing concentrated, hierarchical power to benefit a few rather than distributed power to benefit everyone. Energy democracy, on the other hand, focuses on redistributing the electric power as well as economic and political powers associated with energy, she said.

In their paper, Stephens and Burke compare 22 policy instruments to 26 intended outcomes for energy democracy. They found that bolstering the energy democracy agenda will likely require developing new policies, strengthening existing policies, and integrating efforts to simultaneously resist dominant fossil fuel energy systems while also supporting their democratic and inclusive replacement.


“Our energy systems, like so many of our systems including our education systems, are perpetuating inequality by systematically providing benefits for some and leaving others out. I have always been interested in the social dimensions of energy and climate, and studying the energy democracy movement connects systemic issues of inequality, poverty, and racism with energy.”

Jennie Stephens, Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy; Associate Director, Global Resilience Institute


Published On: November 6, 2017 |
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