The Promise and Peril of Securing Social License in the New Energy Economy

John R. Parkins.
Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

This presentation explores the origins of the term ‘social license’ and its current application in the renewable energy sector. With similarities to concepts like corporate social responsibility and the triple bottom line, social license involves the cultivation of legitimacy, credibility and public trust. Drawing on insights from a recent national survey (n = 3,000) we examine preferences for new energy technologies and how these preferences are impacted by issues of trust and credibility. Our results show relatively strong support for renewable energy technologies. On average, 62% of Canadians support bioenergy sources compared to 19% for shale gas and 47% for conventional natural gas sources. We also find that trust for ‘energy insiders’ such as regulators, government departments and utilities is much lower than trust for ‘energy outsiders’ such as academics, consumer groups and environmental organizations. After exploring implications from these dimensions of social license in the energy sector, I conclude the presentation with considerations for enhancing public trust and smoothing a path for renewable energy development in Canada.