The Just Transition literature discusses narrow and broad conceptions of the Just
Transition, with distributive and procedural justice being key dimensions of the
Focussing on the wind turbine industry and communities where windfarms have
been built over the past four decades, this research project explored four key
questions related to the realisation of a Just Transition.
1. How is the Just Transition defined by workers, managers, social partners, and
community stakeholders in the industry?
2. What are the political and socio-economic pinch points at windfarm
manufacturing sites and in communities where windfarms are located?
3. How are work intensification and intensified use of the natural environment
resulting from the political imperative to deploy wind turbines quickly and at
large scale dealt with?
4. How can the process of structural change, meaning here the expansion of the
wind turbine industry, be managed equitably so that communities and workers
benefit more broadly?
These questions and the project joined two areas of scholarship under the umbrella
of Just Transition research, the exploration of the foundations of the social license
to operate windfarms in communities and the power relations between capital
and labour in wind turbine manufacturing which are mediated through a variety
of national, sector and company level institutions. The project analysed data from
Denmark, Germany, South Africa and the UK, which we collected between the
years 2012 and 2022. The bulk of our data consists of semi structured interviews
and focus groups from 156 participants including industry experts, local citizens,
activists, trade union and industry representatives, managers in the industry and
workers, managers and instructors from skill formation providers, and municipal
policymakers. We complemented this data with secondary sources.
The data shows country differences in the conception of the Just Transition. While
Denmark, Germany and England have no explicit Just Transition policies, Scotland
and South Africa do.
Participants from the manufacturing industry in Denmark, Germany and the UK
had relatively narrow conceptions of the Just Transition with hopes that the energy
transition would not lead to more social harm, that the individuals affected would
receive some form of compensation, and that the process would involve social
dialogue between employers and worker representatives. One important finding
is that while trade unions and worker representation structures within companies
need to be strong to protect skill formation, job quality and social dialogue, the wind
turbine industry is mostly lacking these strong structures.
The conception of the Just Transition in windfarm communities across the countries
tended to be broader; for instance, co-ownership schemes and community ownership
schemes were seen as opportunities to challenge existing power relationships in the
electricity supply industry.
Political and socio-economic pinch points included questions of the distribution
of economic benefits and burdens, questions of inclusivity of decision making
processes, the speed of the energy transition and electrification and concerns
over rising energy costs, political and economic power struggles between local
citizens' windfarms and large utilities and manufacturers, and – in the wind turbine
manufacturing industry – global competition between manufacturers, the trend
to ever larger turbines, and the implications of highly ambitious or 'stop and go'
renewable energy policies and the impact of local content requirements. These issues
are far from being resolved.
Pressures on the cost of energy and of wind turbines put pressure on working
conditions at the manufacturers and the service and maintenance industry for
instance. The sector is not highly unionised and hence social dialogue and good
labour standards are far from being ensured throughout. Participants reported that
the sector still lacks the strength of labour rights and the level of perceived social and
environmental commitment of more established energy industries. Although some
good practice examples could be identified, for example in Scotland, South Africa
and Nordfriesland, Germany, where windfarms provided important community
benefits and at one of the two studied manufacturers where social dialogue and
collective representation are relatively strong due to historical legacies of trade union
presence and works councillors’ effectively used rights of co-determination at the
originally German mother company.
Our findings have important implications for the potential of success when framing
the Just Transition as a ‘global project of saving the planet’ or as a ‘global project of
social solidarity’. While saving the climate de facto needs a global effort, individuals’
specific, local identities and concerns and their material interests in the energy
transition need to be taken into account and concretely addressed so that a global
change can gain momentum.
Our policy recommendations therefore address two areas:
1. local co-ownership and community ownership schemes should be facilitated by
policymakers as these, if implemented transparently and inclusively, increase
local redistribution of economic benefits and participation in decision making
with a concern for local social and environmental impact;
2. worker representation rights and social dialogue should be strengthened to
ensure skill formation and good jobs in the wind turbine industry in the context
of cost pressures and global competition.