Backyard Voices: Community Perceptions of Large-Scale Energy Transmission Infrastructure

No matter how the U.S. sources its electricity in the future, expanding infrastructure capacity is inevitable. Reconguring or expanding the nation's transmission infrastructure will require the engagement and guidance of the American public. It is thus critical to understand public perceptions of energy transmission infrastructure, and how these perceptions are shaped by arguments from government, companies, and advocates. But while scholars have assessed the drivers of public views of electricity generation infrastructure such as wind farms and power plants, attention to transmission infrastructure has been limited. In this paper, we expand on work assessing the drivers of public attitudes toward electricity generation facilities to explore perceptions of energy transmission infrastructure. We draw on in-depth interviews with public officials, residents, landowners, and stakeholders in communities along the routes of two proposed energy transmission projects to understand how community members view the projects. Our study complements survey-based studies of attitudes about energy infrastructure. We focus on a category of perceived impacts that survey researchers have identied as important--socioeconomic considerations--and elucidate the sources of perceptions about expected impacts. We apply a framework rooted in social psychology to explain local attitudes about energy transmission infrastructure, in particular how the scale of place attachments and the symbolic meanings underlying local place attachments help shape residents' interpretations and evaluations of proposed projects as a threat or an opportunity.