Understanding Landscape Values and Baselines of Acceptability on the Mactaquac Dam and Headpond, New Brunswick
Due to the growing interest in sustainable energy futures, jurisdictions at all scales are exploring options to reduce dependencies on dwindling fossil fuel reserves and moving forward with renewable energy generation. In the pursuit of a sustainable energy future, we have to understand not only the economic and environmental implications that renewable energy infrastructure will have but also the social implications of such changes. The purpose of the study was to understand how local residents can come to accept utilitarian energy infrastructure in their landscape. The study used a hydroelectric dam and headpond facing potential removal to understand public perception and landscape values. Dam removal and rebuilding decisions are going to increase as dams continue to age and the Mactaquac Dam offers us a case study to understand the emotions and values that citizens have felt throughout the current lifespan of the dam and what this means for renewable energy transitions. The Mactaquac Dam is the Canadian Maritime Provinces’ largest dam, producing 670 MW of power and creating a 96-kilometre headpond. Communities, roads, and farms were flooded during its construction in 1967, displacing many families and businesses. Unfortunately, the Dam has now reached the end of its lifespan (earlier than expected due to compromised aggregate in its cement structures) and the utility (and province) face a major decision. The Dam will either be removed, (allowing the river to flow freely), rebuilt (maintaining the headpond and power generation), or left in place without producing power (maintaining only the headpond). In the study, twenty citizens from four demographic groups were interviewed to understand their views towards the landscape in the past, present, and future to determine if generational change was required to accept the headpond landscape. The cohorts consisted of residents who: (1) lived and owned property prior to dam construction; (2) were children during construction; (3) grew up in the new headpond landscape; and (4) moved into the area to live in the headpond landscape. This project adapted the Baselines of Acceptability Model to understand how individuals valued the landscape through time. The project found that most individuals, across all four cohorts, presently value the headpond landscape, a landscape many term as ‘normal’ or ‘natural’. Citizens noted that the headpond landscape provides recreational benefits, offers an ideal lifestyle and overall, is aesthetically pleasing. This pattern of perceiving new benefit indicates that baselines of acceptability, in the context of energy landscapes, are adaptable based on experience in the landscape. The study found that baselines of acceptability are fluid, not generational (set based on first experience). An alternative explanation may lie in the adaptive cycle framework. The thesis describes the process by which attachment is formed to the landscape following such large-scale disruption, drawing links to renewable energy transitions more broadly.