Contentious urban infrastructure: a critical discourse analysis of a conflict between renewable energy and biodiversity conservation in Leipzig, Germany



Urban energy transition , socio-ecological justice, conflict, Germany




In the last two decades, cities worldwide have adopted plans and goals to reduce their energy based emissions and are increasingly switching to 100% renewable sources of energy. However, as renewable energy projects begin to materialise, conflicts have also emerged. Conflicts are often attributed to the spatial dimension of urban energy transitions, bringing the sources of energy production within or close to the city boundaries (Hoicka et al., 2021). The ecological impact of renewable energy projects in driving landscape change and impacting biodiversity is increasingly gaining attention and call for a socio-ecological justice perspective toward energy transition (Dunlap, 2021). A socio-ecological justice frame helps establish equivalence between social and ecological dimensions of justice and its utility in framing future urban energy policies (Grossmann et al., 2021; Yaka, 2019).

This paper presents the complicated case of conflict over the location of a solar farm in Leipzig, Germany. The solar farm promises to achieve greenhouse gas reductions and contribute to the city’s attempts to reduce its carbon emissions. The farm is located on the city’s landfill site, in disuse for the last twenty years. In these twenty years, the landfill has become refuge for various species of birds, butterflies as well as larger animals like deer. Furthermore, the local people use is as a green oasis amidst industrial infrastructure. As a result, the solar farm project has raised opposition from citizens and environment conservation groups.

Using a socio-ecological justice frame, I conducted a critical discourse analysis of the arguments presented for and against the project during city council meetings in October 2023. I supplement this data with self-published reports, newspaper articles, key-informant interviews, and a residents’ survey. I contrast the discourse of climate change mitigation from the solar farm against biodiversity conservation and the need for a green space by the locals. Findings indicate that the urban energy transition process attempts to create a balance between economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection. However, the inherent contradiction between preservation and growth is fraught with tensions and entanglements, making sustainability transitions rife with trade-offs, negotiations and an attempt to find a state of truce between conflicting interests.

The paper cautions that evaluating urban energy transitions based solely on carbon reduction, without consideration toward their social-ecological impacts, risks re-producing existing unsustainability and injustices in cities, leading to further conflicts. Furthermore, I highlight the limitations of the current decision making processes with regards to urban renewable energy infrastructure in doing justice to socio-ecological impacts.


Dunlap A (2021) Spreading ‘green’ infrastructural harm: mapping conflicts and socio-ecological disruptions within the European Union’s transnational energy grid. Globalizations: 1–25.

Grossmann K, Connolly JJ, Dereniowska M, et al. (2021) From sustainable development to social-ecological justice: Addressing taboos and naturalizations in order to shift perspective. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space: 251484862110294.

Hoicka CE, Conroy J and Berka AL (2021) Reconfiguring actors and infrastructure in city renewable energy transitions: A regional perspective. Energy Policy 158: 112544.

Yaka Ö (2019) Rethinking Justice: Struggles For Environmental Commons and the Notion of Socio-Ecological Justice. Antipode 51(1): 353–372.