Research on attitudes to energy infrastructure repeatedly finds disjunctions between ‘in principle’ positive opinion of renewable energy options and opposition ‘on the ground’. In the UK, national and regional public opinion surveys have found widespread support for renewable energy in general in Great Britain and Northern Ireland (e. g. Barker and Riddington, 2003a, b; MORI, 2003; TNS, 2003; GfK NOP Social Research, 2006; also repeat surveys by BERR, 2008b). However, specific developments often generate vociferous opposition, and government-commissioned and academic literature relating to bioenergy developments in England and Wales suggest that ‘large’ bioenergy developments need very careful siting in order to avoid significant local objections (Kahn, 2001; Sinclair and Lofstedt, 2001; Upham and Shackley, 2006a, b, 2007, 2006a, b; Upreti, 2004; Upreti and van der Horst, 2004).
The particular bioenergy siting controversy considered here was followed intermittently over a period of four years. The case concerns a nationally and regionally significant advanced gasifier that would have been – had it been successful – a flagship example of integrated gasification combined cycle technology coupled with a major regional expansion in an energy crop supply chain (specifically, the grass Miscanthus).The proposal involved building a 21.5MW(e) integrated combined cycle biomass gasifier (WINBEG – the Winkleigh biomass gasifier) on a disused airfield on the outskirts of the rural village of Winkleigh, Devon, England. This was granted £11 million support under the UK Bio-energy Capital Grant Scheme and was also financially supported by the regional development agency and by unnamed equity backers (the latter for £7 million). The relationships between the stakeholders are illustrated in Figure 20.1.
In an attitudinal survey by the author in June 2004, 1200 questionnaires were distributed to all households in Winkleigh parish (two per household).These were returned by 573 people, representing 40 per cent of all adults in the parish. Opinion was overwhelmingly against the gasifier. The specific stated concerns of local people were varied, but the highest levels of shared concern were truck movements and associated pollution and nuisance, doubts about the developer’s credibility, and gaseous emissions from the plant, including odour. In general, local people felt that they were being asked to accept an industrial-scale development that would lead to a major deterioration in their quality of life (Upham and Shackley, 2006a, b, 2007). In 2007, a follow-up survey was undertaken of the same population (questionnaires were returned by 290 people; about 20 per cent of the adult population) to determine how and whether local opinion had changed. Aspects of this opinion are considered and described selectively below, with a more explanatory and discursive consideration of the findings given in the subsequent section.