The Local Politics of Energy Transitions: A Comparative Case Study of Somerset and Holyoke, MA

Authors: Lauren Contorno*, Northeastern University
Topics: Energy
Keywords: energy geographies; socio-technical transitions
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines the mediating influence of local geography, politics, culture, and history upon community response to coal plant closures through a comparative case study of two municipalities in Massachusetts—Somerset and Holyoke. In Holyoke, grassroots activists and local government officials successfully advocated for a transition to a solar farm, making it the first case of renewable energy installation on the same site as a decommissioned coal plant in the U.S. In Somerset, future reuse of their two retired plants remains uncertain and highly contested. The analytical purpose of comparing these two communities is not to definitively explain differences in redevelopment trajectories or distill significant variables to make a causal argument. Rather, my aim is to theoretically explore a range of contextual variables operating at the local level that may affect the forms and outcomes of contentious energy transition politics. Through an analysis of 41 in-depth interviews with public officials, environmental activists, local residents, dislocated coal workers, and industry representatives, I argue that key differences in community economic identity, local geography, local political culture, and corporate-community relations shaped divergent decarbonization dynamics in these two post-coal communities. My findings contribute to the growing body of literature on “energy geographies” by exploring the emotional and cultural associations with the energy artefacts in Somerset and Holyoke that produce unique socio-spatial identities, as well as the spatial politics of decarbonization in each community, to contextualize the community responses and their redevelopment trajectories.

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