For millennia, humans have burned biological material as an energy source. Biomass, composed predominately of plants and microorganisms, has made a resurgence in recent decades as a sustainable form of energy. Biomass facilities provide communities with this sustainable form of energy while also providing new jobs and a new source of tax revenue upon a facility’s completion. However, not ever community is welcoming of a biomass facility due to concerns regarding air quality, increased construction traffic, and its sheer aesthetic impact on neighborhoods. NIMBY, or “not in my backyard,” opponents to biomass facilities across the United States and United Kingdom run fierce opposition campaigns, significantly delaying project completion or even causing cancellation. However, certain tactics can be employed to ensure a greater likelihood of gaining public approval for biomass facilities so that companies can avoid drawn-out battles with opponents.
One example of a long, drawn-out battle between biomass facility developers and NIMBY opponents took place in the United Kingdom. As part of a plan to develop four facilities across Scotland, Forth Energy announced a proposed biomass facility in the Leith docks and waterfront area of Edinburgh in 2009. The facility would generate enough energy to power one million homes and provide an important energy source to the long-term Leith docks redevelopment plan. Additionally, the facility would provide forty-five permanent jobs, 450-700 construction jobs, and thirty cargo handling jobs. Despite these benefits, a long battle with opponents ensued. The opposition’s campaign referenced other biomass facilities in the UK that were shut down due to air quality concerns, recruited Scottish Parliament members to speak out against the project at a national level, and wrote over 1,800 letters of opposition to the local government. During this time, almost no supporters came forward. The project became one of the most controversial projects in Scotland and was ultimately cancelled in 2012.
Biomass facilities in the US have faced just as much scrutiny as the Leith project. In Valdosta, Georgia, a biomass facility proposed in 2009 went through a two-year battle with local opponents over its construction. Opponents organized a widespread campaign, enlisting students at Valdosta State University, the Valdosta branch of the NAACP, and environmental groups to speak out against the project. In 2011, opponents organized a sit-in protest outside the company’s offices, garnering widespread attention to the project. Ultimately, the company abandoned the project in 2011 due to the difficulty brought on by the fierce opposition campaign.