Public Attitudes Towards Enhanced Geothermal Heating: The Role of Place, Community, and Visions of Energy Futures

Date and Time
October 23, 2020 03:45 PM (PDT)–04:45 PM (PDT)
Understanding how the public assesses the risks, benefits, and tradeoffs of new energy projects like enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) is crucial for successful project implementations. Public acceptance of EGS, particularly the evaluation of induced seismicity risks, can be a major barrier to EGS development. This study investigated residents’ attitudes towards energy sources in Tompkins County, New York, using focus group discussions to illuminate how participants envisioned the future of energy in their community, the range of perspectives and values used to interpret different energy technologies like EGS, and the role of contextual variables such as place and community. We find that key factors shaping participants’ judgments of the acceptability of EGS include trust, fairness, and the distribution of risks and benefits. Participants reported strong attachment to community and place, and their assessments of EGS acceptability drew on the compatibility, or lack thereof, between their interpretation of the technology and their sense of place. Reactions to EGS, including assessments of the risks and benefits, were also shaped by past experiences with energy projects and institutions and by how well EGS was perceived to fit with the overarching visions participants held for the future of energy in their community. This study sheds light on how contextual variables influence attitudes towards EGS, including the underlying role of community ties, place attachment, and local history in shaping support or opposition for new energy technologies, with implications for risk communication strategies that contribute to effective public engagement and equitable decision-making in efforts to develop low-carbon energy systems.
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