Although best described as a ‘meta’ theory addressing the endurance of capitalism, regulation theory can successfully be used to explore not only the economic dimensions, but also the political, socio-cultural and environmental dimensions of particular developmental strategies. Thus, it offers a framework for embedding abstract debates about social attitudes to new technologies within debates about ‘real regulation’ – the economic, social and cultural relationships operating through particular places. This paper uses regulation theory and qualitative, interview-based data to analyse Scotland's drive for onshore wind energy. This approach teases out how responses to wind farms are bound up with wider debates about how rural spaces are, and should be, regulated; the tensions within and between national political objectives, local political objectives and local communities' dissatisfaction; and the connections between local actors and more formal dimensions of renewable energy policy. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.