Category Renewable Energy and the Public

Discussion and Conclusions: Symbolic Logics

The multiple interpretations of place and technology offer a number of reasons for assessments of ‘fit’. Figure 19.2 illustrates some of the potential logics of opposition and support. This is far from an exhaustive list of combinations and it is also possible that stakeholders’ and publics’ interpretations of place or technol­ogy may include a number of different symbolic elements.

From the analysis of the Wave Hub, it is clear that the symbolic interpretations of both place and technology are multiple and diverse, and give rise to various symbolic logics of opposition and support. The interpretations of place indicate

Figure 19.2 Examples of symbolic logics of opposition and support

that engagement with location is much broader than a purely visual notion of landscape...

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Benign or industrial?

For some supporters, the Wave Hub and the wave energy devices to be installed fit seamlessly with images of nature and stewardship. Using nature to solve an environmental problem has a certain ‘fit’, and the term ‘benign’ is often used in describing wave energy devices (e. g. Pelamis Wave Power, 2007). For Surfers Against Sewage, the development is seen to ‘fit’ with surfing, as the same waves are used to light ‘our’ homes and for surfing. There is no new intrusion in this analysis, just an extension of what is already, harmoniously, occurring. Alternatively, the development can be seen as an industrial installation. This symbolic image is created by drawing on industrial terms, such as pistons and pumps, or referring simply to the development as a power station...

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Experiment or pioneering

As noted in relation to significance, the technology is seen by many stakeholders as being ‘experimental’. Again this ‘experimental’ status is interpreted both positively and negatively by different stakeholders. On the one hand, the project is seen being pioneering and pushing at the boundaries of solutions for climate change and energy security. Being at the forefront of innovation demonstrates the technical competence and potential commercial strength of the wave energy industry in the South West and the UK as a whole. Alternatively the ‘experimen­tal’ status is seen as evidence that the impacts are unknown and/or unknowable...

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Commercial project or symbolic ownership

For some surfers, the project is seen very much as a local project for the people of Cornwall. References to the number of local households that could be supplied by the development, and claims that the development will show what Cornwall stands for, use attachment to place to develop a symbolic ownership of the project/technology itself. This can be seen in the quote below from Surfers Against Sewage. They are looking forward to using the waves they have been using for surfing to light their homes. This position makes no reference to the fact that local people will still be supplied by the same energy company and will be required to pay for the electricity that they use...

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Technology Symbolism in the. Wave Hub Case Study

In addition to the multiple interpretations of place, wave energy technology was also interpreted in very different ways. It should be noted that the Wave Hub itself is not a wave energy device: although a range of wave energy devices will connect to it. Stakeholders talked about the Wave Hub in an operational sense, i. e. with the devices attached, rather than the hub on its own. While some respondents used certain devices as examples to make their points, particular wave energy devices are not identified as having particular symbolic interpretations; rather it is wave energy in general that is discussed.

Significance and precedent

For some supporters, a belief in the catalytic potential of Wave Hub that increases the sense of its overall significance makes localized impacts more acceptab...

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The place as a resource or as nature?

‘The reality is that in future you are going to have to get as much as you can out of a sea area. If you have got one square mile you can’t just spread out right across because of the competing interests’ (SWRDA interview).

Although the ‘natural’ or ‘nature’ status of the place is widely accepted, the inter­pretation of this differs. Some present it as a natural resource that should be used with maximum efficiency following a more instrumental understanding of value. For example, in the quote above, the developer explains that the sea is a congested resource that must be used efficiently. Alternatively, rather than seeing the sea as a ‘natural resource’, it is also presented as being in need of protection due to its intrinsic value and fragility to human intervention:


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‘The hub’s pinching something up to 35 per cent of the waves’ energy’ (Email objection, p23).

As identified by Jess and Massey (1995) the notion of ownership is invoked in symbolic and moral ways rather than a legal sense. Many of the objections raised relate to a sense of who owns the waves. There are many references to the oceans and waves being ‘God-given’ and that they are everyone’s to enjoy. The developer is therefore often accused of ‘stealing’ the waves in the emails and letters from surfers (as in the quote above).

The development is seen by some supporters as locals ‘doing their bit’ for climate change or energy production...

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Economic vulnerability and the importance of surfing

In both interviews and secondary data, Cornwall is generally described as being economically vulnerable. Both objectors and supporters of the project draw upon an image of economic deprivation to define what the place ‘is’. In terms of objec­tions, it is argued that the project will affect the surf and the image of surfing in the region, which will in turn affect tourism (seen as a major and vital industry in the area).

‘Cornwall is already one of the most economically weak counties in the UK and relies on the surfing industry more than most realize. Anything that damages the regular swell would destroy this huge national and international income’ (Email objection, p3).

Alternatively the economic vulnerability of the area is used as a way of justifying what is presented as a small...

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