Student Focus: Ciara Emery and Renewable Energy Community Considerations

Ciara Emery

Ciara Emery is a graduate of Humboldt State University, Summa Cum Laude, where she obtained a Master of Social Science in Environment and Community and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Ciara received several awards during her college career and recently was one of 12 students selected to represent HSU in the CSU Student Research Competition for her graduate thesis work on offshore wind energy generation in Humboldt County.

Ciara’s research focuses on the community considerations of renewable energy development. As impacts from anthropogenic climate change continue to manifest at global and local scales, communities are increasingly seeking solutions to transition the world away from fossil fuels. Novel renewable energy technologies, including offshore floating wind energy, continue to garner developer interest. Technological success, however, is one small piece in the effort to decarbonize. Project developers are required to engage in political and bureaucratic processes and work with communities where projects may be sited. Balancing community perceptions and needs, as well as permitting and leasing processes, with increasing pressure to decarbonize will be key as the fight against climate change continues.

Example of an offshore wind farm. Middelgruden Offshore Wind Farm in Denmark. Photo Credit United Nations, Eskinder Debebe

Her thesis work specifically addresses stakeholder perceptions of proposed offshore wind energy development as they relate to the development process and climate change in Humboldt County, California. She interviewed 26 Humboldt County stakeholders, including elected officials, environmental leaders, labor, fishermen, and renewable energy developers, and attended14 public meetings in 2018 and 2019. Her thesis work finds that stakeholders weigh numerous concerns when considering offshore wind development in Humboldt County, and climate change is not the most salient factor in the discussion. Stakeholders cited various potential benefits of an offshore wind project, including the reduction of fossil fuels, jobs and economic benefits, local control, and port infrastructure upgrades. Stakeholders interviewed were most concerned about a potential project’s environmental impacts, impacts to fish populations and the local fishing fleet, project scale, and cost. However, while most stakeholders interviewed discussed climate change in some way, most were unsure how to incorporate their feelings about climate change into the local development process. Ciara suggests changes to both federal and state permitting and environmental review procedures to better incorporate climate concerns in local development processes. She also advocates for continued local engagement by developers who are attempting to pursue such projects.

Ciara’s full thesis will be published by the HSU library later this summer. Her work is also part of a larger project with Schatz Energy Research Center on offshore wind energy development in Humboldt County under the supervision of Dr. Laurie Richmond which is expected to be published later this year.

In the community Ciara works in the Office of Congressman Jared Huffman, volunteers for the Humboldt County Democrats and is President of the Humboldt Young Democrats. She is originally from the Central Valley.