RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017


284 Governance, energy and injustice (1)
Affiliation Energy Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Karen Bickerstaff (University of Exeter, UK)
Catherine Butler (University of Exeter, UK)
Paulina Luzecka (University of Exeter, UK)
Chair(s) Karen Bickerstaff (University of Exeter, UK)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Session abstract Many features of energy production and use have significant impacts on fairness and justice, with recent attention being directed at theorising energy justice, the social and spatial complexities of energy poverty and the justice dimensions of low carbon energy technologies or system components. Matters of political procedure and voice have a significant bearing on these accounts of conflict over energy infrastructure and the roots of vulnerability. This session seeks to move debates forward by focussing attention on the more or less direct ways in which the cultures, practices, and policies of government and governing institutions articulate, address, and / or constitute problems of energy vulnerability and injustice.

The papers in this session will open up questions about the role of government and other governing institutions in shaping the benefits and burdens associated with energy policy. These include: How are energy vulnerability and injustice problems being framed, understood, and addressed within government? How are the knowledges, purposes, cultures, and technologies associated with government implicated in the evolution and contestation of energy-related injustices? How do different sectors of government policy contribute to shaping energy supply and demand problems, their social and geographical consequences, as well as the possibilities for addressing differential burdens and benefits? How, and to what extent, are the socially unjust impacts of policies that impinge on energy systems being scrutinised and managed? What happens when concerns around injustice and vulnerability intersect with national policy agendas around energy security and low carbon living? Ultimately, the session will seek to examine how concerns around energy and injustice are being constituted and managed within different sectors and spaces of governance.
Linked Sessions Governance, energy and injustice (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Fuel poverty and invisible energy policy
Paulina Luzecka (University of Exeter, UK)
Catherine Butler (University of Exeter, UK)
Karen Parkhill (University of York, UK)
Karen Bickerstaff (University of Exeter, UK)
Fuel poverty is recognized as a distinct social justice problem in the UK. However, the ways in which it is framed and addressed by government policy have recently come under increasing academic scrutiny. In particular, it has been argued that its narrow framing as a technical issue of energy efficiency, distinct from poverty itself, obfuscates other structural causes of the problem, thus excluding alternative solutions (Middlemiss, 2016). Moreover, it has been found that dominant policy discourses frame fuel poverty as a lack of adequate space heating, thus omitting other energy uses, which are essential for people’s wellbeing (Simcock et al, 2016). Therefore, there is a need for a greater understanding of the complex underlying causes of energy poverty, in particular of how non-energy policies and processes of governance may have an indirect impact on people’s energy use, access and affordability, beyond heating their homes.
This paper responds to this need by focusing on welfare and employment policies in the UK and their influence on people’s various energy needs, their ability to meet those needs, and impacts on the quality of life and well-being. Drawing on the analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews with key energy and welfare stakeholders at the national and regional levels, as well as with members of the public directly affected by welfare and employment policies, this paper examines the interrelations between energy and poverty, and reflects on the relevant governance processes.
Composite fuel poverty indicators: Revealing, concealing and creating spatial injustices
Caitlin Robinson (The University of Manchester, UK)
In seeking to tackle fuel poverty, the situation in which a household lacks socially and materially necessary energy services to ensure wellbeing (Bouzarovski 2014), government policy tends to rely upon expenditure-based, composite indicators. These composite indicators are a form of governance (Davis 2012) that can simultaneously make visible, create and conceal injustices. Whilst justice frameworks are increasingly used to explore the uneven distribution and misrecognition associated with fuel poverty (Walker and Day 2012) there is a less explicit focus upon the spatial dimension, despite injustices being embedded at a particular scale leading to uneven social outcomes (Soja 2009).
In seeking to understand how the vulnerabilities and injustices associated with fuel poverty are framed, understood, and addressed by government, this paper interrogates the spatial distribution of fuel poverty indicators in England, where a Low Income High Cost fuel poverty indicator replaced a former 10% indicator in 2012. Analysis of neighbourhood-scale data reveals three changes in the geographic characterisation of fuel poor households: a spatially-concentrated reduction in the fuel poor, a higher prevalence of urban fuel poverty and a more spatially heterogeneous fuel poor. These spatial patterns are considered in relation to the evolving fuel poverty policy landscape.
The findings offer two valuable insights. Firstly, they demonstrate how socio-spatial vulnerabilities and losses of wellbeing, and thus injustices, can be concealed, revealed or created by the government’s framing of fuel poverty using different indicators. Secondly, they highlight how injustices manifest as a result of the extent to which each composite indicator subsequently influences policy-making.
Energy justice and vulnerable groups: a comparative analysis of domestic energy efficiency policy in the UK nations
Carolyn Snell (University of York, UK)
Ross Gillard (University of York, UK)
Mark Bevan (University of York, UK)
Energy justice is an emerging field that has gained much attention and geographical reach over the past decade. It draws heavily on both social and environmental justice theories, bringing together the concepts of ‘distributive’, ‘procedural’ and ‘recognition’ justice. Looking beyond just distributional patterns of energy access enables a critical reading of the role of politics, policy and governance in shaping equity issues such as fuel poverty.

Whilst there is a substantial evidence base around the extent and impact of fuel poverty in the UK, there is a much more limited understanding of how this has co-evolved with changes in policy. Furthermore, there is little empirical work that considers how the most vulnerable households (such as low-income families with young children and people with disabilities) are impacted by, or have influence over, relevant government policies.

This paper reports on initial findings from a two-year research project funded by the UK’s Energy Research Centre, comparing the flagship domestic energy efficiency policies of the UK’s four nations. First it identifies some of the key aspects of vulnerability experienced by low-income families and people with disabilities, explicitly linking this to energy services and definitions of fuel poverty. Then, policy documents are analysed to track and compare recent changes in eligibility criteria for access to energy efficiency measures. Finally, the implementation of these schemes is scrutinised through interviews with key governance actors. Findings point to the importance of top-down fuel poverty definitions and funding streams for securing efficacy, as well as to the pivotal role of intermediary organisations in bottom-up scheme governance for securing equity.
'Some people are really poor and some of them are lazy’: the role of misrecognition and stigma in the experience and (re)production of energy poverty
Neil Simcock (The University of Manchester, UK)
This paper examines the role of misrecognition, as a dimension of injustice, in constituting and reproducing energy poverty and vulnerability. I particularly utilise Fraser’s (1995) distinction between two forms of misrecognition – ‘non-recognition’ and ‘disrespect’ – to examine how energy poverty is framed and represented by governing institutions, and the impact this has on the policies in place and the experiences of households. In doing this, I draw on an extensive qualitative study with policy-makers and households in the post-socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, a region where energy poverty is relatively deep and widespread. The findings show that although awareness of energy poverty in the policy community has increased in recent years, its underlying causes are not widely understood and it is only weakly differentiated from income poverty, contributing to inadequate and poorly targeted alleviation measures. Furthermore, stigmatising representations of ‘the poor’ are perpetuated in political discourse, helping to legitimise welfare cuts. In this climate, many vulnerable households seek to disassociate themselves from the notion that they are ‘struggling’ by adopting coping strategies such as rationalisation and concealment, but these responses can ironically help to deepen their vulnerability by reducing the inclination to seek help and support. As well as providing empirical insights into the constitution of energy vulnerability, the paper contributes to theoretical understandings of the relations between different forms of misrecognition and distributional injustice.
The role of ‘sharing economy services’ in the energy sector as a governance model for ‘energy justice’?
Severine Saintier (University of Exeter, UK)
With the rise of renewable energy sources (RES) and the need for an energy transition, regulation in the UK (and European) energy sector is no longer the preserve of either the state or the market. This shift from traditional governance models has given rise to local communities initiatives and self-regulation. Although these so-called ‘sharing economy services’, enabled by technological innovations and digital platforms, are generally welcome, the regulatory dimension surrounding such initiatives, is not yet adapted to this multi-actor market. Two problems persist, the prosumer is not empowered and vulnerable citizens are not adequately protected. Given the shared responsibility of the EU and the Member States in this field, a coherent solution throughout the sector must be found not only to empower ‘prosumers’ but also to achieve ‘energy justice’.

In this light, the rise, in the UK, of Community Interest Companies (consumers and local actors’ collectives) in the energy sector provides an interesting perspective: by providing a link between consumption and production, they allow a whole systems’ view . The aim of this paper is therefore to consider whether such local initiatives could be used as a model for a more social approach to the governance of economic relations. By examining such sharing economy services in the South West, the paper will assess whether the cooperative model, through its interactions between consumers/citizens and communities can help provide a more coherent approach to the multi-actor governance and help navigate the difficulties that the area brings.