Biomass energy &
Dan van der Horst
The role of the public in the
development of biomass energy
• As local community
• As silent supporter/opponent (MORI polls,
focus groups, voter)
• As member of influential NGOs
• As small investor?
• As co-owner / partner in a short or local
• As consumer
of the Willing”
Public attitudes towards Renewable Energy
(London Renewables, 2003)
• 80% in favour of RE
• Solar, wind are more positively perceived than
CHP, incineration or AD
• But…support for specific technologies appears
to be linked to knowledge
• Market uptake is seen as the responsibility of…
government (75%), energy companies (46%),
local councils (43%); consumers only 8%!
• Other studies also show that mainstream
households feel disempowered with regards to
energy efficiency or emissions reductions
Why so passive
• „Rational‟ homo economicus is a myth; we
undervalue future savings
• Upfront price is a barrier
• Lack of knowledge (of technology, of costs)
• Perceptions of immature technologies and
• Who to trust?
• Innovators/pioneers are very well informed,
know about & believe in technology, often
handy, often more money to spend, ideological
motivation (not primarily driven by financial
The „active‟ consumer; many possible roles in
co-construction, co-production, co-provision.
3 deployment models
(Sauter & Watson, 2007)
Domestic biomass energy
• „renewable‟ (moral value)
• „local‟ (moral value)
• „traditional‟ (incl stoves, fireplace)
• „nice to have a fire‟ (aesthetics; cosiness)
• „nice to make a fire‟ („recreational‟)
• Use of own resources / pick your own
• Energy independence (big utilities)
• Energy security (Back-up for cold snaps, black-
outs, price rises)
Perceptions of biomass energy scenarios in
Yorkshire & Humber (Upham et al., 2007)
• Scenarios developed through workshops with
stakeholders & members of the public
• Image of biomass is still in the making; opinions
yet to be „hardened‟
• „convergence‟ between stakeholders & public
• Concerns with large-scale elec. only; with
biomass imports; with climate change
• Role of the local landscape, place-identity
important; small-scale biomass can be positive
in that respect.
• Larger scale accepted in some agricultural
Biomass plants in the UK; the issue of planning permission
Location MW Fuel/technology Planning permission, status
Calne, Wiltshire 20 Straw, Lost, withdrawn (1994)
Ely, 31 Straw, Lost, appealed, won,
Cambridgeshire combustion operational (2000)
Newbridge, 15 Forestry waste, Lost, resubmitted, withdrawn?
Wales fast pyrolysis (2001/2002)
Cricklade, 5.5 willow/forestry, Lost, appealed, lost again
Wiltshire gasification (2001)
Winkleigh, 14 SRC/forestry, Lost, appealed, lost again
Devon gasification (2005?)
Public opinion prior to planning of a
new renewable energy facility
• Technology is new so many people don‟t know
• Many/most people will say „yes I support such
a development because it‟s „green/ good for
• A fairly large number of people will say „don‟t
know‟ (somewhat sceptical „need to know
more‟ / „wait and see‟ attitude)
• Some are opposed in principle, e.g. because
they don‟t believe in climate change, or have a
specific view of tax spending.
Public opinion during the planning of a
new renewable energy facility
• Debate becomes emotional
• Strong polarisation of views
• Opponents list as many objections as possible,
try to get organised and work the public
• Opponents raise legitimacy and trust issues,
say the company is only „in it for the money‟
• Proponents label opponents as „NIMBYs‟ and
blame them of „scaremongering‟.
Public opinion after the building of a
new renewable energy facility
(plant is now operational)
• Those strongest opposed during the proposal phase
are most bothered by the nuisances
• Most people (including those somewhat opposed
during the proposal phase) find the nuisances more
bearable than previously expected
• When local people have gained a greater knowledge
of the plant and the technology and this will also result
in a more favourable opinion.
• Over a period of time many people will start to identify
the plant with their area and will become more
defensive of the plant (who-ever questions the plant,
questions their area)
What is NIMBY?
Freudenberg & Pastor (1992) reviewed the literature
and found 3 strands of thought:
1. Irrational fear /phobic response. Public are wrong and
ignorant (Deficit model of public understanding).
2. Selfish response (seen as rational by economists), but
also recognition that the proponents (selfish) interests
of their own.
3. Prudent response; public are acting reasonably in
distrusting scientists, have good ground for concern
and are able to see the siting problem in wider terms
than the planning experts (local knowledge, citizen
Wolsink‟s typology of opposition
(based on a study of protests against
windfarms in the Netherlands)
1. No to wind farms anywhere (NIABY)
2. No to process (consultation,
3. No to this project, pro-wind subject to
certain criteria (change this & that)
4. Put it anywhere but here (true selfish
Clear evidence that the risk communication strategy
needs to be tailored to the local situation
company Plant location Tech spec. Planning outcome
Ambient Cricklade, 5.5MW Rejected, appealed,
Energy Wiltshire Gasification rejected
Ambient Eye, Suffolk 5.5 MW Planning permission
granted (1st time)
Borders Newbridge, 15MW Rejected, appealed,
Biofuel Powys Pyrolysis rejected(?)
Borders Carlisle, 20MW Planning permission
granted (1st time)
Biofuel Cumbria Pyrolysis
Both had a consistent approach to local communities:
Ambient were open & communicative if amateurish.
Borders Biofuel adopted a silent & arrogant approach.
Their results were identical…
Cricklade planning process
• Ambient applies for planning permission –early 2000
• 439 letters of objection (1 in favour), protest petition
signed by 861 people.
• Protesters organised themselves (BLOT), commissioned
their own research and elected a councillor (Cricklade
Town) to fight the proposal.
• North Wiltshire District Council rejects the planning
permission stating objections of (a) visual impact on the
amenity and character of the countryside and (b)
inappropriate use of rural buffer zone -September 2000-
• Ambient appeals December 2000
• Appeal is rejected in July 2001 stating mainly the major
impact in rural buffer zone.
Concerns raised by residents
• Inappropriate location for a power plant (rural buffer zone);
• Close proximity to local residents;
• Emission of greenhouse gases and water vapour;
• Unpleasant odour;
• Emission of light at night;
• Vibration and noise from the power plant;
• Fear of public health hazards;
• Nuisance from traffic;
• Increases in traffic movement and flow of high goods vehicles;
• negative impacts on wildlife & ecosystems,;
• Negative effect on the local weather system;
• Undermining openness;
• Visual impacts of the chimneys and other structures (storage „shed‟);
• Negative effects on cultural heritage (incl. archaeology);
• Few benefits to local community but they bear the soc./envir. costs;
• Negative effect on tourism and business;
• No compensation to local people;
• Negative effect on property prices;
• No significant employment opportunity for local people
Concerns raised by Biomass
Lumbered on Our Town (BLOT)
• would set a precedent for further industrial development.
• contradict local designation policies, namely the Area of
Special Archaeological Significance & Rural Buffer Zone;
• huge increase of Heavy Goods Vehicles on trunk road;
• chimneys of the plant are very tall, affect the view from afar;
• 117 million litres water /y steamed into the atmosphere;
• odour, dust, noise and emissions nuisances;
• long term uncertainties about health impacts;
• unquantifiable damage to meadows, flora, fauna and unique
water systems south east of Cricklade;
• not clear if there would be any compensation to those
affected, if anything would go wrong in/with the plant;
• negative effects on property prices in the area.
So BLOT focused on
• Main „proven‟ impacts (visual impacts, traffic)
• Main „legal‟ objections (planning designation)
• Issues of high uncertainty (long term health &
• Main public concerns (potential emissions,
impact on property prices, lack of compensation)
Which of these arguments serve to increase public
opposition „on the street‟ and which serve to win
the argument in the planning process?
Ambient‟s failure in risk
communication in Cricklade
• Ambient were stuck with a fixed technology and site, so they
had a there-is-no-alternative (TINA) approach to the
• Ambient saw their plant as environmentally benign. They did
not anticipate such ferocious local opposition and dismissed
this initially as a NIMBY response.
• They had no ready response to accusations such as „land in
the buffer zone is cheap‟, or the „ES is not independent‟.
• Ambient tried their best to communicate but were caught out
in the first meeting (trust once lost, is very hard to recover).
• In the end Ambient personnel and BLOT activists saw more
face to face; Ambient admitted the site was poorly chosen,
BLOT admitted that it was an environmentally benign plant
planned in the wrong location (but by then BLOT knew that
this was their winning argument).
Lessons for plant developers
• Don‟t go “DAD” (decide, announce and defend)
• Don‟t say “TINA” (there is no alternative)
• Don‟t dismiss local protest as selfish NIMBY
• Local beneficiaries (ownership of plant,
providers of fuel, use of services e.g. heat)
• Appropriate scale
• „Proven‟ technology
• Successful operational examples to show
• Make the neighbourhood proud
• Offer compensation?
• Prior education („environmental citizenship‟)
• Target „promising‟ communities?
• Where potential beneficiaries are influential (e.g. farmers
in East Anglia)
• Where there is a concentration of green citizens?
• Where there‟s a historic legacy of energy industry (e.g.
• Where the marginal impact of the plant is small (e.g.
adjacent to larger existing plants)
• „soft‟ communities; where there likelihood of organised
protest is low (more deprived/ working class? Not in
commuterville where they don‟t care about the „local
economy‟ & not in areas full of middleclass retirees with
time on their hand). But is this a right thing to do??
Guidelines of the „Facility Siting Credo‟
(Kunreuther et al., 1993).
1. Institute a broad-based participatory process
2. Seek consensus
3. Work to develop trust
4. Seek acceptable sites through a volunteer process
5. Consider a competitive siting process
6. Set realistic timetables
7. Keep multiple options open at all times
1. Achieve agreement that the status quo is unacceptable
2. Choose the solution that best addresses the problem
3. Guarantee that stringent safety standards will be met
4. Fully address all negative aspects of the facility
5. Make the host community better off
6. Use contingent agreements
7. Work for geographic fairness
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