How do network companies seek legitimacy for public value trade offs? The case of injecting biogas

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Network companies fulfill a critical role in the energy transition. The is article provides an empirical study of this role of a Dutch national gas network company connecting a biogas producer. This project requires choices about many intertwined technical and institutional variables. Choices involve multiple, potentially competing public values like safety, cost-efficiency, sustainability and non-discrimination. A formal governance structure provides generic guidelines for network companies about how to act in the public interest, but we argue that unclarity remains on how to trade-off public values. In these instances, a network company seeks legitimacy for the choices that are made. Via an in-depth case study on the injection of biogas we explored how a network company interpreted its public role and how public value trade-off s were made. We conclude that legitimacy is sought and found in a mixture of formal and informal ways both inside the network company as well as outside. Although the governance regime allowed the network company to take a leading role in the innovative project, it failed as a starting point to claim legitimacy. These findings provide food for thought on how to institutionally embed the role of network companies in the energy transition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-201
JournalCompetition and Regulation in Network Industries
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • governance
  • network companies
  • biogas
  • public values
  • legitimicy

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