Investigating Local Energy Provision and Community Sustainability

Energy sustainability can be complex and highly technical, encompassing different means of generation, transmission, and storage.  At the same time, energy is simple in that it directly impacts everyone with a flick of a switch or a plug in an outlet.   Energy is a primary concern of state national and governments and global organizations, yet local governments have been on the forefront of policy innovation aimed at lowering emissions are formed at the local level in the US and throughout the world.

At the local level energy decisions can be more easily integrated into the sustainability actions of residents, governments, and groups within the community.   Policy and behaviors regarding energy at the local level is one of the major research thrusts of Dr. Richard Feiock’s Local Governance Lab (  Housed in the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy in the College of Social Science and Policy, Localgov Lab’s research examines the complex dynamics among citizens, utilities and local governments.

The current research agenda for the Lab focuses on how institutions and policy of cities and municipal utilities influence individual level behavior relating to energy.  The institutional structures for energy provision are important at multiple scales.

At the local level, the energy provider can be an investor owned private utility, a co-op or a municipal utility.  The role of power utilities in carrying forward energy policies should not be understated. The average consumer may not pay much attention to whether their utility company is municipal, private or coop-owned, but those distinctions can influence policy and management decisions. In turn, those decisions influence how energy is produced and delivered to consumers. For instance, the decision to innovate by adding wind, solar, or smart grid technology may increase the utility’s efficiency, but force price increases for infrastructure upgrades. Decisions to keep older infrastructure may forestall cost increases but risk the increased possibility of larger scale and/or longer power failures.

A recent a surge of new research on energy and sustainability policy at the city level has been stimulated by the development of the Integrated City Sustainability Database (ICSD) which combines seven independent surveys conducted from 2010-2011 to provide complete date on over 1,100 variables for all US cities with populations above 50,000 (Feiock et al. 2014).    Cities that operate a municipal power utility may have the greatest potential to offer and integrative approach to sustainability.  Unfortunately, this potential is often unrealized in practice as the three pillars of sustainability – environmental, economic and social often disconnected.

Lack of resources or political support for sustainability are obstacles to integrating energy with environmental economic and social sustainability, but political and bureaucratic institutions that fragment authority are often the greatest barriers to more effective sustainability.  The Lab’s research addresses how cities and metropolitan regions overcome the “institutional collective action” dilemmas resulting from fragmented authority (Feiock 2013).    The mechanism to overcome these dilemmas range from self-organizing network of coordination and cooperation to consolidation of authority across functions governments (Feiock and Scholz 2010; Feiock et al. 2018).

At the individual level, the Lab’s research is addressing how the messages and behavioral cues that influence residents to energy conservation and sustainability actions.   Cali Curly, a 2013 FSU Ph.D.,  and Kate Wassel, current doctoral student, found that the content of behavior messages from cities to residents is included by electoral cycles, administrative reorganizations, and turnover in local government official (Curely et al, 2018).  A follow up project led by Dr. Curley is examining how these messages influenced individuals’ energy consumption behaviors.   Feiock and Curly are currently working with Svetlana Pevnetsyka  on a survey of Tallahassee residents supported by the College of Social Sciences.  This work examines how attitudes information, beliefs decision making factors influence choices for solar power.   If you are interested in the papers cited here, or our other work, please visit:

Curley, C., Feiock R. Wassell. K. (2018).  “Informational Messaging Governance:  What Accounts for the Content of Informational Messages from Local Government to Citizens?”

Feiock, R., Krause R., Hawkins, & C. Curely, C.  (2014). The Integrated City Sustainability Database, Urban Affairs Review 50 (4), 577 – 589.

Feiock, R. (2013). The Institutional Collective Action Framework. Policy Studies Journal 41(3): 397–425. Open Access:

Feiock, R. Krause, R, Hawkins C. (2018).  The Impact of Administrative Structure on the Ability of City Governments to Overcome Functional Collective Action Dilemmas: A Climate and Energy Perspective.  Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 28. mux021, 10.1093/jopart/mux021.

Feiock, R., & Scholz, J. (Eds.). (2010). Self-organizing Federalism: Collaborative Mechanisms to Mitigate Institutional Collective Action Dilemmas. Cambridge University Press.

Image result for richard feiock

Dr. Richard Feiock is the Augustus B. Turnbull Professor & The Jerry Collins Eminent Scholar Chair as well as the director of the Local Governance Research Lab. 

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