Energy transition looming behind the headlines? Newspaper coverage of biogas production in Finland

Energy transition looming behind the headlines? Newspaper coverage of biogas production in Finland Background: Media coverage can play an important part in energy transitions. It creates awareness of landscape- level megatrends affecting energy systems. It influences and is influenced by public and policy agendas on a regime level. On a niche level, it can spread or screen out information and motivate or discourage actors to adopt new technologies and practices. However, relatively few studies have specifically addressed the role of media in energy transitions. Newspaper coverage of biogas is studied here as a case of media framing of a potential renewable energy solution. Methods: This article examines the long-term development of newspaper coverage of biogas in Finland. The aim of the quantitative content analysis is to draw an overall picture of the main phases of biogas coverage of a widely read newspaper focusing on agriculture and forestry, actors using discursive power in this coverage and key framings of the discussion. The results are discussed from the perspective of energy transition studies. In particular, future expectations created by the media are explored. Results: The results show a lack of newspaper coverage on biogas in the early 2000s, followed by a rapid increase and stabilisation of the volume of newspaper coverage. Biogas was most often mentioned as a secondary topic of broader discussions related to renewable energy. The core discussion focusing on biogas was characterised by very positive framings of biogas as a preferable energy solution fully compatible with the principle of circular economy. The news stories often had a strong future orientation, and examples of enthusiastic forerunners were frequently presented. However, the coverage also emphasised the poor economic profitability of biogas technologies and a need for considerable public subsidies that are inherently unpredictable. Conclusions: The future of niche-level energy technologies such as biogas can be strongly shaped by information flows, public perceptions and expectations created in part by media coverage. The analysed newspaper coverage in Finland was ambivalent from the perspective of energy transition. On the one hand, biogas production was represented as a preferable, environmentally friendly niche-level energy technology that should be encouraged. On the other hand, by emphasising the economic unviability of biogas technologies, the analysed newspaper coverage did not promote the adoption of biogas. Keywords: Biogas, Bioenergy, Media coverage, Public representations, Renewable energy, Transition * Correspondence: jari.lyytimaki@ymparisto.fi Finnish Environment Institute, Helsinki, Finland Full list of author information is available at the end of the article © The Author(s). 2018 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 2 of 11 Background due to climate impacts related to combustion of wood Biogas as a promising renewable energy source and decrease of forest carbon sinks. Biogas production Decentralised biogas production based on anaerobic diges- based on waste and side-streams can avoid this critique of tion of organic material has been welcomed as an energy renewable energy as well. solution potentially addressing multiple environmental and Despite such promising characteristics, the develop- socio-economic challenges. Biogas production can provide ment of decentralised, small-scale biogas production has societies with new possibilities to turn residues and wastes been relatively slow in most countries and most of the into fuels, fertilisers and raw materials, thus supporting cir- biogas produced for energy use originates from large- cular economy, which aims to minimise resource input and scale plants [4, 12, 13]. For example, biogas plays a rela- waste generation by creating material loops [1]. Controlled tively minor role in the Nordic countries characterised treatment of organic materials in closed bioreactors may by high environmental consciousness and ambitious en- also decrease harmful environmental impacts such as vironmental policies. The renewable energy portfolio of emissions of greenhouse gases (CO ,NH ,N O), acid- Norway is dominated by water power, while wind power 2 4 2 ifying substances, nutrient leaks, unpleasant odours and has a high profile in Denmark and forest-based bioe- microbiological risks [2–5]. Biogas production can im- nergy dominates in Finland [14]. Wood-based biogas proveenergysecuritybycomplementing theportfolio was an important energy source in Finland during the of local renewable energy sources. Unlike solar power World War II, when wood gas generators were widely which suffers from high variability of energy supply and used in civilian-motorised vehicles to save gasoline for a lack of means to store the energy, gas from bioreactors is military use [15]. After the war, the use of wood gas ceased. relatively easy to store. Besides the environmental benefits, Contrary to countries such as Denmark, Finland did not biogas production can create new employment opportun- introduce any ambitious policies aiming to promote more ities and strengthen local and national economies. In par- advanced biogas technologies during the late 20th century ticular, the potential for local livelihoods and employment [16]. Compared to Finland, also the neighbouring country opportunities for economically underdeveloped areas has Sweden is characterised by a relatively strong role of biogas been emphasised [6]. Theassessmentofeconomicprof- in energy policy and much wider use of biogas especially as itability of different farm-level energy sources showed a transport fuel. However, it has been estimated that only a that under the current investment subsidy mechanisms, small fraction of the biogas production potential in Sweden the economic profitability of biogas plants is better than is currently utilised and especially the farm-based biogas that of energy production from oil or wood chips [7]. Re- plants suffer from poor economic profitability [17, 18]. cent advances of biogas technologies have opened up new Several explanations for the slow progress of biogas opportunities for local-level experimentation while, at the development have been offered, including relatively high same time, concern over climate change has contributed investment costs and low economic profitability, missing to overall public and policy agendas favourable of such financial resources, immature technologies and lack of in- new solutions. formation and expertise. Unpredictable energy policies Media reporting can further underline the positive and inconsistent government incentives have also been qualities of small-scale biogas production because it has highlighted as key impediments [19–22]. One possible not been related to newsworthy negative aspects that additional explanation is the quantity and quality of media have often characterised the reporting of several other en- coverage—or lack of coverage. The media plays an import- ergy sources. It has not been publicly characterised by im- ant part in setting the public and policy agendas and creat- ages of dramatic and irreversible risks like nuclear energy ing specific framings of renewable energy, hindering or has been, burdened also by the long shadow of atomic enhancing technology diffusion, and selectively communi- bombs and war industry [8]. It has generally not faced in- cating information and misinformation [23–25]. Earlier tensive public critique, complaints and controversies typ- research from various fields has shown that media repre- ical for the planning and construction of wind power [9]. sentations can have a considerable influence on societal Compared with non-renewable fossil fuels, biogas pro- learning by giving prominence to certain opportunities or duced from renewable materials has an obvious advantage risks and neglecting others [26, 27]. Here, the focus is on as a climate-friendly option. Small-scale or farm-level bio- the role of a sectorally oriented but widely read newspaper gas production focusing on the utilisation of residues and in energy transitions. side-streams is unlikely to face public criticism directed at large-scale and intensive use of agricultural land for en- Energy transitions and media representations ergy production instead of food production [10, 11]. In Energy transition is here defined as purposeful, long-term Finland, forest-based energy has been promoted as a form and large-scale structural socio-technological transform- of renewable energy but also criticised because of negative ation of the way energy needs are met [28, 29]. Defining effects to water quality and biodiversity and increasingly characters of energy transition include a high degree of Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 3 of 11 complexity, different types of uncertainties, strong vested invest their time and money and to carry out potentially interests, path dependencies and lock-ins, participation of risky experiments that ultimately may lead to changes different types of actors and a key role for public policy. affectingthe wholeenergysystem[34]. Popular and profes- As noted by Geels et al. [30], low-carbon transitions of sional media outlets can provide information and increase energy systems are contested and non-linear processes awareness among the public, entrepreneurs and policy- involving not only market diffusion of new technologies makers about new energy technologies. Media, and increas- but also changes in user practices, cultural discourses and ingly social media, can induce interaction and information broader political struggles. Thus, the changes in energy exchange between different parties, especially in the early technologies, practices and institutions are intertwined phase of the innovation process [21]. On the other hand, and co-evolving. media representations highlighting uncertainties and risks The multi-level perspective (MLP) [30–32] conceptu- can discourage and forestall action [26, 35]. Information alises energy transition as an interplay between the three overflow or under-communication of certain information levels of niche, regime and landscape. Niches form the may prevent the actor from getting the relevant message in micro-level of new innovations typically developed by a suitable format at the right time. Unawareness may be small networks of dedicated actors outside of the market maintained by the media omitting information on the de- pressures. The socio-technical regime is the meso-level velopment of certain energy technologies and related risks stable configuration of existing practises, mature technolo- and opportunities. Media may also create unawareness by gies and institutions following a set of rules. Landscape directing attention to other issues entirely out of the scope refers to macro-level exogenous environment beyond direct of energy transitions. influence of actors on lower levels. Changes in the land- Earlier research has indicated that the topics highlighted scape level are usually slow. Some landscape-level changes, and framings adopted by media representations over energy such as climate change, may put pressure on the existing issues can show considerable variation. The variation can energy regime and inflict changes that may induce niche- be high even between contexts that are relatively similar in level innovations or technologies to become a part of a new physical, socio-cultural and economic terms [27, 36, 37]. modified regime. This suggests that media coverage can play different roles Representations created by the media are a key factor in energy transitions. Even the information describing setting the public and policy agenda of energy issues in landscape-level global megatrends such as climate change contemporary societies [23]. They build public discourses and commonly agreed transnational climate policies can and narratives that are vehicles of meaning and intermedi- be domesticated in different ways in national and local set- ation between individual and social spheres [33]. Media tings [38]. Therefore, case studies can be valuable for iden- representations create shared awareness of landscape-level tifying the key similarities and differences between various megatrends and boundary conditions of energy systems. national contexts and for recognising the key issues con- During the past decades, the global adoption of new infor- cerning media representations that shape the development mation and communication technologies as well as inter- of energy systems. national consolidation of media companies have made the media contents more uniform. Media representations are a key constituent of national Research questions socio-technical regimes of shared, stable and aligned set This study focuses on the role of newspaper coverage as of rules or routines. Public framings created by the media a factor hindering or enhancing the transition towards a can strengthen systemic lock-ins and path dependencies by more sustainable energy system. The coverage is investi- supporting the existing power relations, actor positions and gated over a period of 17 years in order to track long-term structures of energy system. On the other hand, critical changes. Biogas is taken as an example of the debate over media coverage can also destabilise current energy regimes decentralised renewable energy technology potentially and show that a variety of potential transition pathways are contributing to a transition of the energy system. The gen- possible. Importantly, the media is not a monolithic actor eral aim of this study is to explore what kinds of public but it includes multiple voices often delivering contradict- perceptions and expectations regarding biogas are created ory messages [23]. The social salience of these messages is by the newspaper coverage and how they relate to poten- a result of multiple factors, including scientific knowledge, tial transition pathways. values and emotions, institutional settings and individual The more specific research questions are: preferences. As a result, the media agenda is both influ- enced by and influencing the public and policy agendas.  How has the volume of biogas reporting evolved in Media representations are also a key part of niche-level newspaper coverage? formation of new ideas and interactions. Media can create  Who are the dominant actors of the newspaper positive expectations that motivate niche-level actors to coverage focusing on biogas? Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 4 of 11 What types of framings are used to describe biogas forerunners among both large and small energy companies production? as well as individual households have begun experimenting What types of opportunities and risks relevant for with decentralised renewable energy systems, indicating a an energy transition are highlighted or omitted in potential for regime change [21]. Some consumer segments the media framings? have showed a growing interest in locally produced, fossil fuel-free green energy. Media attention given to renewable The study aims to provide insights into Northern energy technologies such as ground source heat pumps has European context and vernacular (Finnish) energy de- increased as well [43]. Here,the focusisonthe newspaper bates, thus complementing studies focusing on English- coverage of biogas. language media and major energy markets. Newspaper data collection Methods Data for this study originates from the newspaper Maa- The Finnish context seudun Tulevaisuus (MT; “Future of the Countryside” in Finland has identified itself as one of the global leaders of English). Despite its formal focus on the forest and agri- renewable energy. As touted by the State Energy Authority culture sectors, the MT covers news broadly and is the [39], Finland reached a new national record of renewable second most read newspaper in Finland (excluding two energy production in 2016, with over 40% of end consump- tabloids), with a circulation of 76,091 in 2016 and esti- tion of energy covered by renewable energy sources. The mated readership of over 330,000 [44]. Unlike other major record was explained mainly by the increased use of side- newspapers in Finland, it has not faced a major decline in streams in pulp industry, and in small part by investments readership during the past decade. MT is published three in wind energy. The main source of renewable energy in times a week. The issues covered by MT pertaining to Finland consists of black liquor and other side-streams of rural areas, agriculture and forestry and economic issues wood and pulp industry. The share of biogas is marginal. as well as natural resources and environmental policies Only 0.5% of renewable energy currently originates from can be considered highly relevant for energy transitions in biogas, and about 0.6% of the biogas originates from farm- general and for the development of biogas production in level biogas reactors [40]. Most of the farm-level biogas particular [4]. The newspaper acknowledges itself as an reactors were launched during the past decade, and cur- organ of the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and rently, there are approximately 20 operational farm-level Forestry Owners in Finland (MTK). The newspaper is reactors in the country. Most of the produced biogas origi- committed to following the good journalistic principles nates from landfill gas recovery plants and water treatment defined by the Finnish Council for Mass Media. It can be plants. considered as a prestige or high-quality newspaper. Finland has a long tradition in utilising bioenergy. His- Newspaper items were collected using the online torically, abundant forest resources have served as a key search tool of the digital edition, open for subscribers energy source vital for survival during the cold winters only. The search engine provided an opportunity for of the boreal climate region. Wood has remained an im- using wildcards (*). Use of wildcards is a necessity because portant fuel for the heating of detached houses, and cur- of the inflexions of words in the Finnish language. Search rently, practically all new detached houses are equipped was conducted during January 2017. Based on a testing of with a fireplace. Small-scale wood burning is also cultur- several keywords, the search term “biogas*” (in Finnish: bio- ally significant as highlighted by the use of wood as a kaasu*) was considered adequate to give a comprehensive heat source for saunas, especially at the about 500,000 picture of the coverage on biogas. The search included edi- summer cottages of Finland [41]. torial material and opinion pieces including the search term In terms of the energy produced, centralised forms of anywhere in the title, figure, picture captions or text. Thus, energy production dominate in Finland. Heavy industry the search included also items mentioning biogas only in relying on a centralised energy production system has passing. This methodological choice gives an opportunity been one of the cornerstones of the Finnish economy. to study how widely the issue is addressed as a secondary Together with the metal industry, forest industries led topic in debates focusing on other issues [45]. Remaining the industrialisation of Finland after the World War II. irrelevant hits not related on energy issues were removed As a consequence, development of decentralised energy manually. systems has not been presented as a significant target The MT database declares that material is included for the national energy policy until the past decade. from 1990 onwards but during the time of data gathering Recently, interest towards decentralised energy has in- the first data available were from year 1999. The screening creased considerably. It has been emphasised as a key factor of raw data showed that the number of duplicates, missing for reaching national energy and climate targets and related items and errors was high in the 1990s and therefore the EU-level and international goals [42]. A limited number of first year included in the sample was 2000. The 17-year Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 5 of 11 time span was considered adequate to give an overall Cohen’s kappa was used to test the intercoder reliability pictureof the keyphasesof the newspaperreporting on [48]. The test based on 25 randomly selected news items biogas. Earlier research shows that coverage of non-wood with 451 variables showed an excellent agreement biofuel production by MT’s opinion and commentary sec- between two coders (κ =0.84). tions was low during the 1980s and 1990s [46]. Results Content analysis Overall development and key issues of the coverage Content analysis aimed to draw a comprehensive overall The attention given to biogas in MT increased during picture of the coverage of biogas as well as a nuanced the study period of 2000–2016 (Fig. 1). The overall num- portrait of the debate focusing on the role of biogas in ber of items mentioning biogas was 1,188. On average, the energy transition. A two-step content analysis was about every other issue of the newspaper included an item performed. First, coding based primarily on the titles related to biogas. Most of the items mentioning biogas was used to identify whether the main focus of the news appeared in the section for domestic news. During the item was on biogas or some other issue. In unclear first years of the study period, biogas was relatively often cases, sub-titles, figure captions and opening phrases mentioned on the news front page, indicating the novelty were included in the assessment. This coding scheme and high news value of the topic. After 2005, biogas was remained at a general level since the purpose was to mentioned more often as a regular news item. Biogas was generate an overall picture of the longitudinal develop- also increasingly discussed in op-eds and letters to the ment of the newspaper coverage. editor during the latter half of the study period. Second, news items focusing on biogas as a main issue The share of items focusing primarily on biogas was were selected for a more detailed analysis. Coding included less than one quarter of all news items mentioning biogas the tone of the item (positive, neutral or negative stance (n = 282). Most of the coverage mentioned biogas as a sec- towards biogas), temporal orientation (focus on past, ondary topic and focused mainly on other energy-related present or future of different lengths), spatial focus (local, issues. News items mentioning biogas typically discussed sub-national, national or international) and actors (domin- it as one source of renewable energy. In particular, it was ant or secondary actors). Four categories were developed to brought up in connection with forest-based bioenergy. identify the dominant action framing of the news item [47]: The potential of biogas to complement other renewable energy sources such as solar or wind energy was discussed 1. Diagnostic, i.e. the newspaper article identifies a only rarely. Representations of biogas and wind energy problem by describing why an issue is a problem, potentially competing for the scarce public subsidies were what the consequences are or who or what is to occasionally created (MT Sept. 30, 2009). blame for the problem. The most prominent actors that presented their views 2. Prognostic, i.e. the newspaper article involves the or were described by the news items were biogas entrepre- articulation of a proposed solution to the problem neurs and farmers (Fig. 2). These actor roles were often or the strategies for carrying out the planned closely related and sometimes indistinguishable, since typ- activities. ical biogas entrepreneurs were also farm owners. These ac- 3. Motivational, i.e. the newspaper article puts forward tors typically presented their views and future expectations moral and motivational reasons why someone relatedto a plannedor recentlylaunched biogas plant. should be concerned about the problem and take The acceleration phase of the coverage (2005–2006; action on it or ignore it. Fig. 1) was characterised by attention given to forerunners 4. Action framing not applicable to describe the news of biogas production. The completion of the “Biovakka” item. This category includes unclear cases that could biogas facility in southwest Finland was highlighted as a not be unambiguously coded in categories 1–3, which major investment requiring high technical knowhow. The should fit most frames, as indicated by the low share facility required an investment of over six million euros and of items coded as 4. was able to treat sludge from 20 participating pig farms as well as additional biowaste (MT March 21, 2005). The ex- Action framing is investigated especially in studies on periences of a Finnish forerunner company, Metener Ltd, social mobilisation [47]. Here, the action frame coding established in 1988, were also highlighted, and the CEO of was applied to investigate whether the newspaper cover- the company was frequently interviewed by MT. Ten per age was mainly analytic in its problem orientation or cent of all the news items focusing on biogas mentioned prognostic/motivational which might be linked to a poten- this company and/or its owners. Metener Ltd operated the tial to contribute to niche-level mobilisation of action and first farm-based biogas station in Finland aimed to serve the eventual breaking of path dependencies in the current private car owners. The company also develops biogas energy regime. technologies. Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 6 of 11 Fig 1 Annual number of news items mentioning biogas and focusing on biogas (left panel) and distribution of all news items mentioning biogas according the section of the newspaper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (MT) (right panel) Research and development projects focusing on the known business leader, Mr. Ilkka Herlin, were highlighted development of biogas production were relatively often after he bought a large farm and initiated a new fertiliser mentioned during the early 2000s (e.g. [49]). Interest business utilising biogas technologies and putting the prin- and activities by key policymakers was an additional factor ciples of circular economy in practice: “Manure business explaining the increase of news coverage. In particular, the starts at theKuitiaManor” (Front page headline, MT July biogas-fuelled car owned and driven by the Minister of 15, 2015). Climate concerns gave further impetus for biogas Economic Affairs, Mr. Mauri Pekkarinen, gained consider- reporting even though climate change or climate policies able attention. The news reported about the keen personal were directly referred to in the sample articles quite rarely. interest by this top politician with a down-to-earth and National climate and energy strategies were specifically even humorous headline: “Mr. Pekkarinen steps on the mentioned by two news items, and climate change was gas with manure gas” (MT Oct 11, 2006). referred to in 9.2% of the items focusing on biogas. During the first 5 years of the study period, the news mainly described biogas as an environmentally friendly Key framings of the newspaper coverage future energy solution. During the stabilisation phase of The biogas coverage was in general strongly future- the coverage from 2007 onwards, the coverage was char- oriented since about a half (48.3%) of the items focused acterised by news on energy policy issues such as levels on future development (Fig. 3). Furthermore, reporting of investment subsidies and national targets for renewable focusing on the present situation often referred to future energy. News about planned or operating biogas facilities development implicitly. Spatial framings created an im- were also occasionally highlighted. Biogas production was pression of biogas as a national-level issue. The report- typically described as a potential solution to multiple envir- ing focused mainly on national policies and experiences onmental problems of agriculture. During the last years of from local biogas facilities. European Union was men- the sample, biogas production was increasingly framed tioned only rarely, despite the central role of EU targets under the concept of circular economy. Actions by a well- on climate, energy and agricultural policies. EU bodies were referred to as primary actors by 5.0% of all items focusing on biogas. News focusing on other countries typically reported concrete examples of biogas produc- tion or related national-level policy measures by other countries. These news items represented Finland’s biogas sector as underdeveloped in comparison with countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Germany or Austria. The news coverage described biogas mainly with a prognostic framing, as a win-win energy solution simultan- eously addressing rural economic development, treatment of manure and environmental issues (Fig. 4). Motivational frames were most prominent in the letters to the editor re- quiring introduction of policy measures supporting biogas. Fig 2 Actors in the news items focusing on biogas (N = 282) The coverage with farmers as key actors was characterised Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 7 of 11 Fig 3 Temporal and spatial focus of the news items focusing on biogas by a relatively high (16.2%) share of motivational frames, in- prominent critical theme was theeconomicfeasibility of dicating the interest of farmers to advance biogas technolo- biogas production. Low profitability was a key concern, and gies. However, the overall salience of motivational framings the need for publicly financed investment subsidies was focusing on biogas was low. Items with a diagnostic frame taken as a self-evident starting point. Energy cost savings typically addressed different impacts of biogas production. created by the decreased need to buy energy for a farm was In general, biogas was framed in a highly positive man- presented as the realistic economic potential while revenue ner as a promising future energy source and a potential sources, such as selling the electricity to the grid or produ- remedy for several challenges of the rural livelihoods. cing biogas for traffic use, fees for taking in organic waste News items featuring a researcher as a core actor (n = for treatment and economic benefits from using the diges- 57) had the highest shares of negative (5.0%) or neutral tate as a fertiliser, were generally considered as speculative (15.0%) framings of biogas. The relatively high share of or of minor importance. neutral reporting possibly indicates a lack of detailed Frustration with the slow progress of biogas develop- science-based knowledge about the long-term implica- ment and lack of concrete support from authorities and tions of biogas production. However, the majority of policymakers was repeatedly voiced. In comparison with news items with a researcher as the core actor had a the highly positive future expectations and projections positive framing of biogas (78.3%). presented by some key policymakers, the actual develop- Critical discussion focusing on possible negative social ment was perceived as slow in the news coverage. For and environmental impacts of biogas production was example, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry (Mr. almost completely missing. Technical uncertainties were Korkeaoja) stated in 2006 that the share of bioenergy occasionally discussed duringthe firstyears of thesample will triple during the next 15 or 20 years and created but such uncertainties were not a prominent theme and no expectations that biogas will substantially contribute to major technical failures or risks were highlighted. The most this increase (MT Nov. 29, 2006). In 2008, the Minister of Economic Affairs (Mr. Pekkarinen) demanded that in order to reach the national 38% target for renewable en- ergy set by the EU, the use of biogas should be drastically increased, among other sources of bioenergy (MT Dec. 15, 2008). Positive expectations were further highlighted by various calculations of the energy production potential, including front page news highlighting that it would take only about 2,000 cattle farms (about 10% of all cattle farms in Finland) to generate enough biogas to cover the needs of one third of all Finnish cars (MT June 9, 2008). Such positive expectations have been continuously highlighted in the news headlines such as the piece published in May 2, 2016: “Biogas takes a step forward”.At the same time, the news coverage highlights that the leap from Fig 4 General framings of the news items focusing on biogas marginal to mainstream has not yet been realised. Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 8 of 11 Discussion the orientation of the MT as a newspaper focused on Media can play an important part in energy transitions rural development. During the stabilisation phase of the both by presenting information in a certain way or by discussion (2007–2014), biogas was almost uniformly not presenting it. Our results of the reporting of a widely considered as a solution with potential to address envir- read Finnish newspaper focusing on rural issues show onmental critique of farmers. The positive framing grew that in the early 2000s, biogas was given only marginal even stronger as the news coverage started to highlight attention as a potential local-level energy solution. The biogas production under the concept of circular econ- national-level energy debate was increasingly related to omy. During the last years of the sample (2015–2016), a climate policy and focused mainly on forest-based bioe- more holistic framing of biogas emerged, emphasising nergy and nuclear power during that time [46, 50, 51]. not only production of renewable energy and reduction The initial phase of the public (non-)discussion on bio- of greenhouse gas emissions but also other environmen- gas by MT can be considered as a case of unintentional tal effects such as the increased efficiency of the use of inattention where relevant information exists but re- natural resources and possibilities to close nutrient mains unnoticed [52]. This elongated phase of inatten- loops. Biogas technologies were seen not only as a form tion was likely to considerably slow down the diffusion of bioenergy but as a wider bioeconomy solution capable of biogas technologies. Examples from other countries of delivering multiple benefits advancing the general were not brought up, and experiences of the domestic policy objectives of rural development. This framing of pioneers of biogas production remained isolated from biogas as an energy technology completely in line with the mainstream energy debates. In particular, experiences the principles of circular economy is likely to serve as a from neighbouring country Sweden could have provided strong legitimating factor in thefutureenergypolicy useful lessons for the Finnish discussion [17, 18]. Domestic debate [57, 58]. A similar shift in the biogas discussion research activities at the time were too sporadic to produce from energy production to manure treatment has hap- a continuous flow of easy-to-use material for the media pened in other countries such as Denmark and the [49]. The Finnish Biogas Association was established Netherlands [59, 60]. already in 1991, but as a small organisation based on However, even though the MT framed biogas produc- the voluntary participation of a limited number of per- tion as environmentally beneficial, technically advanced sons, it lacked the resources and public salience and and socially acceptable, it also casted serious doubts by credibility to efficiently serve as a knowledge brokering highlighting it as economically risky or even unviable intermediary organisation. Compared to other interest under current market conditions. The need for consider- groups of the Finnish energy policy, it has played only a able investment subsidies was taken as a self-evident minor role [53–55], starting point by the news coverage. Debate over the The second phase (2002–2006) of the discussion can be poor economic performance of small-scale biogas pro- characterised as a gradual creation of discursive space duction has been a common theme in other industria- favourable to niche-level development. The volume of lised countries as well [14, 17, 57, 61]. In the Finnish media reporting started to increase as forerunners of farm- case, the news reporting that highlighted economic risks level biogas production initiated their activities and pro- and the reliance on public subsidies was likely to deter vided the media with concrete news topics that were easy potential early adopters even when concrete examples to report. Parallel to niche-level activities, statements by and learning opportunities based on the activities of some prominent politicians favouring biogas as a preferable forerunners were available. The lock-in faced by niche- form of renewable energy gave further impetus for the level actors was strengthened by the stagnating national reporting and challenged the prevailing energy policy re- economy and the poor economic outlook of the agricul- gime. Biogas started to gain some prominence as a poten- tural sector. tial future energy source complementing the national The coveragebyMT showed somepeculiarities originat- renewable energy portfolio also because of assessments and ing from the Finnish context. In several other countries, various calculations suggesting considerable energy poten- such as Germany, criticism of global consequences of bioe- tial from agricultural crops and various organic residues (e. nergy potentially influencing food security has put the bio- g. MT May 12, 2005). This framing was likely to induce ex- gas sector under pressure ([61], p. 146). One explanation pectations on economic opportunities provided by biogas for the missing critical tone is that the news coverage production. More generally, in the early 2000s, the Finnish strongly focused on the national and local levels. Land use media debate on energy issues faced a shift from consider- competition between energy crops and food production ing environmental concerns in terms of additional cost to was not framed as a key issue in Finland. On the contrary, considering them also as economic opportunities [56]. energy production was framed as a prerequisite for sustain- The highly positive tone of the biogas coverage is able agriculture following the principle of circular economy. noteworthy, even though in part it can be explained by For example, an opportunity to utilise crop residues and Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 9 of 11 cover crops cultivated simultaneously with the main culti- Another issue largely missing from the news agenda vated crop was brought up. In addition to producing extra was the role of consumers. This is partially explained by material for bioreactors, cover crops can reduce nutrient the professional orientation of the MT and its readership, leaching and improve soil structure and lead to positive consisting of a high proportion of farmers and forest long-term impact on main crop yields [58]. owners. Consumer preferences are an important part of Other explanations for the missing critical tone include the dynamics of energy markets and the long-term devel- the small size of Finnish biogas plants and the benefits re- opment of energy systems. Consumers can be an import- lated to late adoption of technologies already tested else- ant group for small-scale biogas producers, in particular where. The size of Finnish biogas plants utilising material because excess biogas can be sold as vehicle fuel. The from agriculture has remained relatively small, and large profitability of selling biogas as fuel is dependent on the industrial-scale biogas plants that are criticised in other number of gas vehicles and the willingness of the vehicle countries are missing [61, 62]. The short history of the users to buy local biogas which is slightly more expensive majority of Finnish biogas plants provides an additional than conventional natural gas. Currently, the number of explanation. Critical insights may be increasingly pre- gas-powered private cars in Finland is about 2,000. The sented especially if the positive expectations are not met. national target set for the year 2030 is 50,000 gas-powered In Denmark, attitudes towards farm-scale plants and cen- vehicles [42]. Media coverage of energy consumption is tralised plants have shifted several times since the begin- important both because it can inform and help energy ning of the country’s biogas production (the late 1970s). producers to address the needs of consumers but also Negative experiences (low yields, lack of knowledge) from because it can influence consumption patterns, for ex- the first farm-scale plants encouraged the building of cen- ample, by increasing consumer awareness of available tralised biogas plants, but the uncertainty created by the choices such as biogas. liberalisation of the energy regime in the late 1990s re- The current Finnish energy policy emphasises the role sulted again in negative expectations towards centralised of bioenergy for reaching the national renewable energy plants [16]. As highlighted by Geels and Raven [16], the targets. As shown by the news coverage of MT, biogas question is fundamentally about long-term multi-level in- has generally been seen in a very positive light, but in teractions of attitudes and interests in technological practice it has been given only a minor role in energy niches. One key question for the development of the policy. A partial explanation for that can be found in the Finnish biogas sector is the ability of family-owned small sector-based policymaking culture incapable of taking farms to create coalitions and networks capable of utilis- into account the multiple benefits (or harmful effects) of ing windows of opportunity potentially opened by chan- certain energy production technologies [20]. Also, it is ging energy regimes or external landscape-level shocks. likely that Finnish energy discourses still carry the legacy The news coverage of biogas had a strong future of the highly centralised energy system prioritising the orientation but detailed critical debate anticipating and need to provide energy for large-scale industrial plants. evaluating the future potential of the technology was Decentralised and currently minor energy sources, such largely missing both regarding practical niche-level as biogas, have not yet fully challenged the Finnish en- technologies and national-level energy policy. This is ergy regime that is strongly based on centralised energy partially explained by a strong focus on domestic is- production. The adoption of small-scale biogas tech- sues of the Finnish energy and agriculture sectors and nologies is still in its elongated early phase, with clear relatively scarce reflection on experiences in other potential for rapid expansion and forming part of a re- countries. During the recent years in particular, the gime through a socio-technological transition. coverage in MT increasingly highlighted the economic subsidies as a key issue for the future development of Conclusions the biogas sector. This has shifted the focus towards The newspaper coverage of biogas in Finland showed an national-level policy issues from niche-level technological increasing and relatively high volume of specialised news development and potential disruptive technologies chal- coverage, presence of multiple actors voicing their views, lenging the current energy system. For example, reporting and a dominant framing of biogas as a potential energy connecting biogas production with hydrogen economy solution with multiple benefits and a strong temporal [63] or other future energy technologies was completely focus on future issues. The news coverage was strongly missing from the news agenda. Thus, long-term impli- influenced by the activities of a few forerunners of bio- cations of present day energy solutions were poorly ad- gas production and some prominent policymakers inter- dressed. Lack of coverage over technical details and ested in promoting biogas. Media contents are one experiences from the use of biogas plants decreased op- factor influencing the lock-ins and transformations of portunities for learning about the specific local charac- energy production and consumption, among many other teristics of biogas plants. contributing factors. As shown by the Finnish newspaper Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 10 of 11 coverage, positive public framings are not able to spark a 5. Mao C, Feng Y, Wang X, Ren G (2015) Review on research achievements of biogas from anaerobic digestion. Renew Sust Energ Rev 45:540–555. large-scale energy transition alone. Despite more than a https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2015.02.032 decade of news coverage framing biogas as a highly prom- 6. Muvhiiwa R, Hildebrandt D, Chimwani N, Ngubevana L, Matambo T (2017) ising energy source with several co-benefits, the volume of The impact and challenges of sustainable biogas implementation: moving towards a bio-based economy. Energy Sustain Soc 7(1):20. https://doi.org/10. energy produced from biogas has remained negligible in 1186/s13705-017-0122-3 Finland. 7. Winquist E, Luostarinen S, Kässi P, Pyykkönen V, Regina K (2015) Maatilojen In particular, the potential of small-scale farm-based biokaasulaitosten kannattavuus ja kasvihuonekaasujen päästövähennys. 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Energy transition looming behind the headlines? Newspaper coverage of biogas production in Finland

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Abstract

Background: Media coverage can play an important part in energy transitions. It creates awareness of landscape- level megatrends affecting energy systems. It influences and is influenced by public and policy agendas on a regime level. On a niche level, it can spread or screen out information and motivate or discourage actors to adopt new technologies and practices. However, relatively few studies have specifically addressed the role of media in energy transitions. Newspaper coverage of biogas is studied here as a case of media framing of a potential renewable energy solution. Methods: This article examines the long-term development of newspaper coverage of biogas in Finland. The aim of the quantitative content analysis is to draw an overall picture of the main phases of biogas coverage of a widely read newspaper focusing on agriculture and forestry, actors using discursive power in this coverage and key framings of the discussion. The results are discussed from the perspective of energy transition studies. In particular, future expectations created by the media are explored. Results: The results show a lack of newspaper coverage on biogas in the early 2000s, followed by a rapid increase and stabilisation of the volume of newspaper coverage. Biogas was most often mentioned as a secondary topic of broader discussions related to renewable energy. The core discussion focusing on biogas was characterised by very positive framings of biogas as a preferable energy solution fully compatible with the principle of circular economy. The news stories often had a strong future orientation, and examples of enthusiastic forerunners were frequently presented. However, the coverage also emphasised the poor economic profitability of biogas technologies and a need for considerable public subsidies that are inherently unpredictable. Conclusions: The future of niche-level energy technologies such as biogas can be strongly shaped by information flows, public perceptions and expectations created in part by media coverage. The analysed newspaper coverage in Finland was ambivalent from the perspective of energy transition. On the one hand, biogas production was represented as a preferable, environmentally friendly niche-level energy technology that should be encouraged. On the other hand, by emphasising the economic unviability of biogas technologies, the analysed newspaper coverage did not promote the adoption of biogas. Keywords: Biogas, Bioenergy, Media coverage, Public representations, Renewable energy, Transition * Correspondence: jari.lyytimaki@ymparisto.fi Finnish Environment Institute, Helsinki, Finland Full list of author information is available at the end of the article © The Author(s). 2018 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 2 of 11 Background due to climate impacts related to combustion of wood Biogas as a promising renewable energy source and decrease of forest carbon sinks. Biogas production Decentralised biogas production based on anaerobic diges- based on waste and side-streams can avoid this critique of tion of organic material has been welcomed as an energy renewable energy as well. solution potentially addressing multiple environmental and Despite such promising characteristics, the develop- socio-economic challenges. Biogas production can provide ment of decentralised, small-scale biogas production has societies with new possibilities to turn residues and wastes been relatively slow in most countries and most of the into fuels, fertilisers and raw materials, thus supporting cir- biogas produced for energy use originates from large- cular economy, which aims to minimise resource input and scale plants [4, 12, 13]. For example, biogas plays a rela- waste generation by creating material loops [1]. Controlled tively minor role in the Nordic countries characterised treatment of organic materials in closed bioreactors may by high environmental consciousness and ambitious en- also decrease harmful environmental impacts such as vironmental policies. The renewable energy portfolio of emissions of greenhouse gases (CO ,NH ,N O), acid- Norway is dominated by water power, while wind power 2 4 2 ifying substances, nutrient leaks, unpleasant odours and has a high profile in Denmark and forest-based bioe- microbiological risks [2–5]. Biogas production can im- nergy dominates in Finland [14]. Wood-based biogas proveenergysecuritybycomplementing theportfolio was an important energy source in Finland during the of local renewable energy sources. Unlike solar power World War II, when wood gas generators were widely which suffers from high variability of energy supply and used in civilian-motorised vehicles to save gasoline for a lack of means to store the energy, gas from bioreactors is military use [15]. After the war, the use of wood gas ceased. relatively easy to store. Besides the environmental benefits, Contrary to countries such as Denmark, Finland did not biogas production can create new employment opportun- introduce any ambitious policies aiming to promote more ities and strengthen local and national economies. In par- advanced biogas technologies during the late 20th century ticular, the potential for local livelihoods and employment [16]. Compared to Finland, also the neighbouring country opportunities for economically underdeveloped areas has Sweden is characterised by a relatively strong role of biogas been emphasised [6]. Theassessmentofeconomicprof- in energy policy and much wider use of biogas especially as itability of different farm-level energy sources showed a transport fuel. However, it has been estimated that only a that under the current investment subsidy mechanisms, small fraction of the biogas production potential in Sweden the economic profitability of biogas plants is better than is currently utilised and especially the farm-based biogas that of energy production from oil or wood chips [7]. Re- plants suffer from poor economic profitability [17, 18]. cent advances of biogas technologies have opened up new Several explanations for the slow progress of biogas opportunities for local-level experimentation while, at the development have been offered, including relatively high same time, concern over climate change has contributed investment costs and low economic profitability, missing to overall public and policy agendas favourable of such financial resources, immature technologies and lack of in- new solutions. formation and expertise. Unpredictable energy policies Media reporting can further underline the positive and inconsistent government incentives have also been qualities of small-scale biogas production because it has highlighted as key impediments [19–22]. One possible not been related to newsworthy negative aspects that additional explanation is the quantity and quality of media have often characterised the reporting of several other en- coverage—or lack of coverage. The media plays an import- ergy sources. It has not been publicly characterised by im- ant part in setting the public and policy agendas and creat- ages of dramatic and irreversible risks like nuclear energy ing specific framings of renewable energy, hindering or has been, burdened also by the long shadow of atomic enhancing technology diffusion, and selectively communi- bombs and war industry [8]. It has generally not faced in- cating information and misinformation [23–25]. Earlier tensive public critique, complaints and controversies typ- research from various fields has shown that media repre- ical for the planning and construction of wind power [9]. sentations can have a considerable influence on societal Compared with non-renewable fossil fuels, biogas pro- learning by giving prominence to certain opportunities or duced from renewable materials has an obvious advantage risks and neglecting others [26, 27]. Here, the focus is on as a climate-friendly option. Small-scale or farm-level bio- the role of a sectorally oriented but widely read newspaper gas production focusing on the utilisation of residues and in energy transitions. side-streams is unlikely to face public criticism directed at large-scale and intensive use of agricultural land for en- Energy transitions and media representations ergy production instead of food production [10, 11]. In Energy transition is here defined as purposeful, long-term Finland, forest-based energy has been promoted as a form and large-scale structural socio-technological transform- of renewable energy but also criticised because of negative ation of the way energy needs are met [28, 29]. Defining effects to water quality and biodiversity and increasingly characters of energy transition include a high degree of Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 3 of 11 complexity, different types of uncertainties, strong vested invest their time and money and to carry out potentially interests, path dependencies and lock-ins, participation of risky experiments that ultimately may lead to changes different types of actors and a key role for public policy. affectingthe wholeenergysystem[34]. Popular and profes- As noted by Geels et al. [30], low-carbon transitions of sional media outlets can provide information and increase energy systems are contested and non-linear processes awareness among the public, entrepreneurs and policy- involving not only market diffusion of new technologies makers about new energy technologies. Media, and increas- but also changes in user practices, cultural discourses and ingly social media, can induce interaction and information broader political struggles. Thus, the changes in energy exchange between different parties, especially in the early technologies, practices and institutions are intertwined phase of the innovation process [21]. On the other hand, and co-evolving. media representations highlighting uncertainties and risks The multi-level perspective (MLP) [30–32] conceptu- can discourage and forestall action [26, 35]. Information alises energy transition as an interplay between the three overflow or under-communication of certain information levels of niche, regime and landscape. Niches form the may prevent the actor from getting the relevant message in micro-level of new innovations typically developed by a suitable format at the right time. Unawareness may be small networks of dedicated actors outside of the market maintained by the media omitting information on the de- pressures. The socio-technical regime is the meso-level velopment of certain energy technologies and related risks stable configuration of existing practises, mature technolo- and opportunities. Media may also create unawareness by gies and institutions following a set of rules. Landscape directing attention to other issues entirely out of the scope refers to macro-level exogenous environment beyond direct of energy transitions. influence of actors on lower levels. Changes in the land- Earlier research has indicated that the topics highlighted scape level are usually slow. Some landscape-level changes, and framings adopted by media representations over energy such as climate change, may put pressure on the existing issues can show considerable variation. The variation can energy regime and inflict changes that may induce niche- be high even between contexts that are relatively similar in level innovations or technologies to become a part of a new physical, socio-cultural and economic terms [27, 36, 37]. modified regime. This suggests that media coverage can play different roles Representations created by the media are a key factor in energy transitions. Even the information describing setting the public and policy agenda of energy issues in landscape-level global megatrends such as climate change contemporary societies [23]. They build public discourses and commonly agreed transnational climate policies can and narratives that are vehicles of meaning and intermedi- be domesticated in different ways in national and local set- ation between individual and social spheres [33]. Media tings [38]. Therefore, case studies can be valuable for iden- representations create shared awareness of landscape-level tifying the key similarities and differences between various megatrends and boundary conditions of energy systems. national contexts and for recognising the key issues con- During the past decades, the global adoption of new infor- cerning media representations that shape the development mation and communication technologies as well as inter- of energy systems. national consolidation of media companies have made the media contents more uniform. Media representations are a key constituent of national Research questions socio-technical regimes of shared, stable and aligned set This study focuses on the role of newspaper coverage as of rules or routines. Public framings created by the media a factor hindering or enhancing the transition towards a can strengthen systemic lock-ins and path dependencies by more sustainable energy system. The coverage is investi- supporting the existing power relations, actor positions and gated over a period of 17 years in order to track long-term structures of energy system. On the other hand, critical changes. Biogas is taken as an example of the debate over media coverage can also destabilise current energy regimes decentralised renewable energy technology potentially and show that a variety of potential transition pathways are contributing to a transition of the energy system. The gen- possible. Importantly, the media is not a monolithic actor eral aim of this study is to explore what kinds of public but it includes multiple voices often delivering contradict- perceptions and expectations regarding biogas are created ory messages [23]. The social salience of these messages is by the newspaper coverage and how they relate to poten- a result of multiple factors, including scientific knowledge, tial transition pathways. values and emotions, institutional settings and individual The more specific research questions are: preferences. As a result, the media agenda is both influ- enced by and influencing the public and policy agendas.  How has the volume of biogas reporting evolved in Media representations are also a key part of niche-level newspaper coverage? formation of new ideas and interactions. Media can create  Who are the dominant actors of the newspaper positive expectations that motivate niche-level actors to coverage focusing on biogas? Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 4 of 11 What types of framings are used to describe biogas forerunners among both large and small energy companies production? as well as individual households have begun experimenting What types of opportunities and risks relevant for with decentralised renewable energy systems, indicating a an energy transition are highlighted or omitted in potential for regime change [21]. Some consumer segments the media framings? have showed a growing interest in locally produced, fossil fuel-free green energy. Media attention given to renewable The study aims to provide insights into Northern energy technologies such as ground source heat pumps has European context and vernacular (Finnish) energy de- increased as well [43]. Here,the focusisonthe newspaper bates, thus complementing studies focusing on English- coverage of biogas. language media and major energy markets. Newspaper data collection Methods Data for this study originates from the newspaper Maa- The Finnish context seudun Tulevaisuus (MT; “Future of the Countryside” in Finland has identified itself as one of the global leaders of English). Despite its formal focus on the forest and agri- renewable energy. As touted by the State Energy Authority culture sectors, the MT covers news broadly and is the [39], Finland reached a new national record of renewable second most read newspaper in Finland (excluding two energy production in 2016, with over 40% of end consump- tabloids), with a circulation of 76,091 in 2016 and esti- tion of energy covered by renewable energy sources. The mated readership of over 330,000 [44]. Unlike other major record was explained mainly by the increased use of side- newspapers in Finland, it has not faced a major decline in streams in pulp industry, and in small part by investments readership during the past decade. MT is published three in wind energy. The main source of renewable energy in times a week. The issues covered by MT pertaining to Finland consists of black liquor and other side-streams of rural areas, agriculture and forestry and economic issues wood and pulp industry. The share of biogas is marginal. as well as natural resources and environmental policies Only 0.5% of renewable energy currently originates from can be considered highly relevant for energy transitions in biogas, and about 0.6% of the biogas originates from farm- general and for the development of biogas production in level biogas reactors [40]. Most of the farm-level biogas particular [4]. The newspaper acknowledges itself as an reactors were launched during the past decade, and cur- organ of the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and rently, there are approximately 20 operational farm-level Forestry Owners in Finland (MTK). The newspaper is reactors in the country. Most of the produced biogas origi- committed to following the good journalistic principles nates from landfill gas recovery plants and water treatment defined by the Finnish Council for Mass Media. It can be plants. considered as a prestige or high-quality newspaper. Finland has a long tradition in utilising bioenergy. His- Newspaper items were collected using the online torically, abundant forest resources have served as a key search tool of the digital edition, open for subscribers energy source vital for survival during the cold winters only. The search engine provided an opportunity for of the boreal climate region. Wood has remained an im- using wildcards (*). Use of wildcards is a necessity because portant fuel for the heating of detached houses, and cur- of the inflexions of words in the Finnish language. Search rently, practically all new detached houses are equipped was conducted during January 2017. Based on a testing of with a fireplace. Small-scale wood burning is also cultur- several keywords, the search term “biogas*” (in Finnish: bio- ally significant as highlighted by the use of wood as a kaasu*) was considered adequate to give a comprehensive heat source for saunas, especially at the about 500,000 picture of the coverage on biogas. The search included edi- summer cottages of Finland [41]. torial material and opinion pieces including the search term In terms of the energy produced, centralised forms of anywhere in the title, figure, picture captions or text. Thus, energy production dominate in Finland. Heavy industry the search included also items mentioning biogas only in relying on a centralised energy production system has passing. This methodological choice gives an opportunity been one of the cornerstones of the Finnish economy. to study how widely the issue is addressed as a secondary Together with the metal industry, forest industries led topic in debates focusing on other issues [45]. Remaining the industrialisation of Finland after the World War II. irrelevant hits not related on energy issues were removed As a consequence, development of decentralised energy manually. systems has not been presented as a significant target The MT database declares that material is included for the national energy policy until the past decade. from 1990 onwards but during the time of data gathering Recently, interest towards decentralised energy has in- the first data available were from year 1999. The screening creased considerably. It has been emphasised as a key factor of raw data showed that the number of duplicates, missing for reaching national energy and climate targets and related items and errors was high in the 1990s and therefore the EU-level and international goals [42]. A limited number of first year included in the sample was 2000. The 17-year Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 5 of 11 time span was considered adequate to give an overall Cohen’s kappa was used to test the intercoder reliability pictureof the keyphasesof the newspaperreporting on [48]. The test based on 25 randomly selected news items biogas. Earlier research shows that coverage of non-wood with 451 variables showed an excellent agreement biofuel production by MT’s opinion and commentary sec- between two coders (κ =0.84). tions was low during the 1980s and 1990s [46]. Results Content analysis Overall development and key issues of the coverage Content analysis aimed to draw a comprehensive overall The attention given to biogas in MT increased during picture of the coverage of biogas as well as a nuanced the study period of 2000–2016 (Fig. 1). The overall num- portrait of the debate focusing on the role of biogas in ber of items mentioning biogas was 1,188. On average, the energy transition. A two-step content analysis was about every other issue of the newspaper included an item performed. First, coding based primarily on the titles related to biogas. Most of the items mentioning biogas was used to identify whether the main focus of the news appeared in the section for domestic news. During the item was on biogas or some other issue. In unclear first years of the study period, biogas was relatively often cases, sub-titles, figure captions and opening phrases mentioned on the news front page, indicating the novelty were included in the assessment. This coding scheme and high news value of the topic. After 2005, biogas was remained at a general level since the purpose was to mentioned more often as a regular news item. Biogas was generate an overall picture of the longitudinal develop- also increasingly discussed in op-eds and letters to the ment of the newspaper coverage. editor during the latter half of the study period. Second, news items focusing on biogas as a main issue The share of items focusing primarily on biogas was were selected for a more detailed analysis. Coding included less than one quarter of all news items mentioning biogas the tone of the item (positive, neutral or negative stance (n = 282). Most of the coverage mentioned biogas as a sec- towards biogas), temporal orientation (focus on past, ondary topic and focused mainly on other energy-related present or future of different lengths), spatial focus (local, issues. News items mentioning biogas typically discussed sub-national, national or international) and actors (domin- it as one source of renewable energy. In particular, it was ant or secondary actors). Four categories were developed to brought up in connection with forest-based bioenergy. identify the dominant action framing of the news item [47]: The potential of biogas to complement other renewable energy sources such as solar or wind energy was discussed 1. Diagnostic, i.e. the newspaper article identifies a only rarely. Representations of biogas and wind energy problem by describing why an issue is a problem, potentially competing for the scarce public subsidies were what the consequences are or who or what is to occasionally created (MT Sept. 30, 2009). blame for the problem. The most prominent actors that presented their views 2. Prognostic, i.e. the newspaper article involves the or were described by the news items were biogas entrepre- articulation of a proposed solution to the problem neurs and farmers (Fig. 2). These actor roles were often or the strategies for carrying out the planned closely related and sometimes indistinguishable, since typ- activities. ical biogas entrepreneurs were also farm owners. These ac- 3. Motivational, i.e. the newspaper article puts forward tors typically presented their views and future expectations moral and motivational reasons why someone relatedto a plannedor recentlylaunched biogas plant. should be concerned about the problem and take The acceleration phase of the coverage (2005–2006; action on it or ignore it. Fig. 1) was characterised by attention given to forerunners 4. Action framing not applicable to describe the news of biogas production. The completion of the “Biovakka” item. This category includes unclear cases that could biogas facility in southwest Finland was highlighted as a not be unambiguously coded in categories 1–3, which major investment requiring high technical knowhow. The should fit most frames, as indicated by the low share facility required an investment of over six million euros and of items coded as 4. was able to treat sludge from 20 participating pig farms as well as additional biowaste (MT March 21, 2005). The ex- Action framing is investigated especially in studies on periences of a Finnish forerunner company, Metener Ltd, social mobilisation [47]. Here, the action frame coding established in 1988, were also highlighted, and the CEO of was applied to investigate whether the newspaper cover- the company was frequently interviewed by MT. Ten per age was mainly analytic in its problem orientation or cent of all the news items focusing on biogas mentioned prognostic/motivational which might be linked to a poten- this company and/or its owners. Metener Ltd operated the tial to contribute to niche-level mobilisation of action and first farm-based biogas station in Finland aimed to serve the eventual breaking of path dependencies in the current private car owners. The company also develops biogas energy regime. technologies. Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 6 of 11 Fig 1 Annual number of news items mentioning biogas and focusing on biogas (left panel) and distribution of all news items mentioning biogas according the section of the newspaper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (MT) (right panel) Research and development projects focusing on the known business leader, Mr. Ilkka Herlin, were highlighted development of biogas production were relatively often after he bought a large farm and initiated a new fertiliser mentioned during the early 2000s (e.g. [49]). Interest business utilising biogas technologies and putting the prin- and activities by key policymakers was an additional factor ciples of circular economy in practice: “Manure business explaining the increase of news coverage. In particular, the starts at theKuitiaManor” (Front page headline, MT July biogas-fuelled car owned and driven by the Minister of 15, 2015). Climate concerns gave further impetus for biogas Economic Affairs, Mr. Mauri Pekkarinen, gained consider- reporting even though climate change or climate policies able attention. The news reported about the keen personal were directly referred to in the sample articles quite rarely. interest by this top politician with a down-to-earth and National climate and energy strategies were specifically even humorous headline: “Mr. Pekkarinen steps on the mentioned by two news items, and climate change was gas with manure gas” (MT Oct 11, 2006). referred to in 9.2% of the items focusing on biogas. During the first 5 years of the study period, the news mainly described biogas as an environmentally friendly Key framings of the newspaper coverage future energy solution. During the stabilisation phase of The biogas coverage was in general strongly future- the coverage from 2007 onwards, the coverage was char- oriented since about a half (48.3%) of the items focused acterised by news on energy policy issues such as levels on future development (Fig. 3). Furthermore, reporting of investment subsidies and national targets for renewable focusing on the present situation often referred to future energy. News about planned or operating biogas facilities development implicitly. Spatial framings created an im- were also occasionally highlighted. Biogas production was pression of biogas as a national-level issue. The report- typically described as a potential solution to multiple envir- ing focused mainly on national policies and experiences onmental problems of agriculture. During the last years of from local biogas facilities. European Union was men- the sample, biogas production was increasingly framed tioned only rarely, despite the central role of EU targets under the concept of circular economy. Actions by a well- on climate, energy and agricultural policies. EU bodies were referred to as primary actors by 5.0% of all items focusing on biogas. News focusing on other countries typically reported concrete examples of biogas produc- tion or related national-level policy measures by other countries. These news items represented Finland’s biogas sector as underdeveloped in comparison with countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Germany or Austria. The news coverage described biogas mainly with a prognostic framing, as a win-win energy solution simultan- eously addressing rural economic development, treatment of manure and environmental issues (Fig. 4). Motivational frames were most prominent in the letters to the editor re- quiring introduction of policy measures supporting biogas. Fig 2 Actors in the news items focusing on biogas (N = 282) The coverage with farmers as key actors was characterised Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 7 of 11 Fig 3 Temporal and spatial focus of the news items focusing on biogas by a relatively high (16.2%) share of motivational frames, in- prominent critical theme was theeconomicfeasibility of dicating the interest of farmers to advance biogas technolo- biogas production. Low profitability was a key concern, and gies. However, the overall salience of motivational framings the need for publicly financed investment subsidies was focusing on biogas was low. Items with a diagnostic frame taken as a self-evident starting point. Energy cost savings typically addressed different impacts of biogas production. created by the decreased need to buy energy for a farm was In general, biogas was framed in a highly positive man- presented as the realistic economic potential while revenue ner as a promising future energy source and a potential sources, such as selling the electricity to the grid or produ- remedy for several challenges of the rural livelihoods. cing biogas for traffic use, fees for taking in organic waste News items featuring a researcher as a core actor (n = for treatment and economic benefits from using the diges- 57) had the highest shares of negative (5.0%) or neutral tate as a fertiliser, were generally considered as speculative (15.0%) framings of biogas. The relatively high share of or of minor importance. neutral reporting possibly indicates a lack of detailed Frustration with the slow progress of biogas develop- science-based knowledge about the long-term implica- ment and lack of concrete support from authorities and tions of biogas production. However, the majority of policymakers was repeatedly voiced. In comparison with news items with a researcher as the core actor had a the highly positive future expectations and projections positive framing of biogas (78.3%). presented by some key policymakers, the actual develop- Critical discussion focusing on possible negative social ment was perceived as slow in the news coverage. For and environmental impacts of biogas production was example, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry (Mr. almost completely missing. Technical uncertainties were Korkeaoja) stated in 2006 that the share of bioenergy occasionally discussed duringthe firstyears of thesample will triple during the next 15 or 20 years and created but such uncertainties were not a prominent theme and no expectations that biogas will substantially contribute to major technical failures or risks were highlighted. The most this increase (MT Nov. 29, 2006). In 2008, the Minister of Economic Affairs (Mr. Pekkarinen) demanded that in order to reach the national 38% target for renewable en- ergy set by the EU, the use of biogas should be drastically increased, among other sources of bioenergy (MT Dec. 15, 2008). Positive expectations were further highlighted by various calculations of the energy production potential, including front page news highlighting that it would take only about 2,000 cattle farms (about 10% of all cattle farms in Finland) to generate enough biogas to cover the needs of one third of all Finnish cars (MT June 9, 2008). Such positive expectations have been continuously highlighted in the news headlines such as the piece published in May 2, 2016: “Biogas takes a step forward”.At the same time, the news coverage highlights that the leap from Fig 4 General framings of the news items focusing on biogas marginal to mainstream has not yet been realised. Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 8 of 11 Discussion the orientation of the MT as a newspaper focused on Media can play an important part in energy transitions rural development. During the stabilisation phase of the both by presenting information in a certain way or by discussion (2007–2014), biogas was almost uniformly not presenting it. Our results of the reporting of a widely considered as a solution with potential to address envir- read Finnish newspaper focusing on rural issues show onmental critique of farmers. The positive framing grew that in the early 2000s, biogas was given only marginal even stronger as the news coverage started to highlight attention as a potential local-level energy solution. The biogas production under the concept of circular econ- national-level energy debate was increasingly related to omy. During the last years of the sample (2015–2016), a climate policy and focused mainly on forest-based bioe- more holistic framing of biogas emerged, emphasising nergy and nuclear power during that time [46, 50, 51]. not only production of renewable energy and reduction The initial phase of the public (non-)discussion on bio- of greenhouse gas emissions but also other environmen- gas by MT can be considered as a case of unintentional tal effects such as the increased efficiency of the use of inattention where relevant information exists but re- natural resources and possibilities to close nutrient mains unnoticed [52]. This elongated phase of inatten- loops. Biogas technologies were seen not only as a form tion was likely to considerably slow down the diffusion of bioenergy but as a wider bioeconomy solution capable of biogas technologies. Examples from other countries of delivering multiple benefits advancing the general were not brought up, and experiences of the domestic policy objectives of rural development. This framing of pioneers of biogas production remained isolated from biogas as an energy technology completely in line with the mainstream energy debates. In particular, experiences the principles of circular economy is likely to serve as a from neighbouring country Sweden could have provided strong legitimating factor in thefutureenergypolicy useful lessons for the Finnish discussion [17, 18]. Domestic debate [57, 58]. A similar shift in the biogas discussion research activities at the time were too sporadic to produce from energy production to manure treatment has hap- a continuous flow of easy-to-use material for the media pened in other countries such as Denmark and the [49]. The Finnish Biogas Association was established Netherlands [59, 60]. already in 1991, but as a small organisation based on However, even though the MT framed biogas produc- the voluntary participation of a limited number of per- tion as environmentally beneficial, technically advanced sons, it lacked the resources and public salience and and socially acceptable, it also casted serious doubts by credibility to efficiently serve as a knowledge brokering highlighting it as economically risky or even unviable intermediary organisation. Compared to other interest under current market conditions. The need for consider- groups of the Finnish energy policy, it has played only a able investment subsidies was taken as a self-evident minor role [53–55], starting point by the news coverage. Debate over the The second phase (2002–2006) of the discussion can be poor economic performance of small-scale biogas pro- characterised as a gradual creation of discursive space duction has been a common theme in other industria- favourable to niche-level development. The volume of lised countries as well [14, 17, 57, 61]. In the Finnish media reporting started to increase as forerunners of farm- case, the news reporting that highlighted economic risks level biogas production initiated their activities and pro- and the reliance on public subsidies was likely to deter vided the media with concrete news topics that were easy potential early adopters even when concrete examples to report. Parallel to niche-level activities, statements by and learning opportunities based on the activities of some prominent politicians favouring biogas as a preferable forerunners were available. The lock-in faced by niche- form of renewable energy gave further impetus for the level actors was strengthened by the stagnating national reporting and challenged the prevailing energy policy re- economy and the poor economic outlook of the agricul- gime. Biogas started to gain some prominence as a poten- tural sector. tial future energy source complementing the national The coveragebyMT showed somepeculiarities originat- renewable energy portfolio also because of assessments and ing from the Finnish context. In several other countries, various calculations suggesting considerable energy poten- such as Germany, criticism of global consequences of bioe- tial from agricultural crops and various organic residues (e. nergy potentially influencing food security has put the bio- g. MT May 12, 2005). This framing was likely to induce ex- gas sector under pressure ([61], p. 146). One explanation pectations on economic opportunities provided by biogas for the missing critical tone is that the news coverage production. More generally, in the early 2000s, the Finnish strongly focused on the national and local levels. Land use media debate on energy issues faced a shift from consider- competition between energy crops and food production ing environmental concerns in terms of additional cost to was not framed as a key issue in Finland. On the contrary, considering them also as economic opportunities [56]. energy production was framed as a prerequisite for sustain- The highly positive tone of the biogas coverage is able agriculture following the principle of circular economy. noteworthy, even though in part it can be explained by For example, an opportunity to utilise crop residues and Lyytimäki et al. Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:15 Page 9 of 11 cover crops cultivated simultaneously with the main culti- Another issue largely missing from the news agenda vated crop was brought up. In addition to producing extra was the role of consumers. This is partially explained by material for bioreactors, cover crops can reduce nutrient the professional orientation of the MT and its readership, leaching and improve soil structure and lead to positive consisting of a high proportion of farmers and forest long-term impact on main crop yields [58]. owners. Consumer preferences are an important part of Other explanations for the missing critical tone include the dynamics of energy markets and the long-term devel- the small size of Finnish biogas plants and the benefits re- opment of energy systems. Consumers can be an import- lated to late adoption of technologies already tested else- ant group for small-scale biogas producers, in particular where. The size of Finnish biogas plants utilising material because excess biogas can be sold as vehicle fuel. The from agriculture has remained relatively small, and large profitability of selling biogas as fuel is dependent on the industrial-scale biogas plants that are criticised in other number of gas vehicles and the willingness of the vehicle countries are missing [61, 62]. The short history of the users to buy local biogas which is slightly more expensive majority of Finnish biogas plants provides an additional than conventional natural gas. Currently, the number of explanation. Critical insights may be increasingly pre- gas-powered private cars in Finland is about 2,000. The sented especially if the positive expectations are not met. national target set for the year 2030 is 50,000 gas-powered In Denmark, attitudes towards farm-scale plants and cen- vehicles [42]. Media coverage of energy consumption is tralised plants have shifted several times since the begin- important both because it can inform and help energy ning of the country’s biogas production (the late 1970s). producers to address the needs of consumers but also Negative experiences (low yields, lack of knowledge) from because it can influence consumption patterns, for ex- the first farm-scale plants encouraged the building of cen- ample, by increasing consumer awareness of available tralised biogas plants, but the uncertainty created by the choices such as biogas. liberalisation of the energy regime in the late 1990s re- The current Finnish energy policy emphasises the role sulted again in negative expectations towards centralised of bioenergy for reaching the national renewable energy plants [16]. As highlighted by Geels and Raven [16], the targets. As shown by the news coverage of MT, biogas question is fundamentally about long-term multi-level in- has generally been seen in a very positive light, but in teractions of attitudes and interests in technological practice it has been given only a minor role in energy niches. One key question for the development of the policy. A partial explanation for that can be found in the Finnish biogas sector is the ability of family-owned small sector-based policymaking culture incapable of taking farms to create coalitions and networks capable of utilis- into account the multiple benefits (or harmful effects) of ing windows of opportunity potentially opened by chan- certain energy production technologies [20]. Also, it is ging energy regimes or external landscape-level shocks. likely that Finnish energy discourses still carry the legacy The news coverage of biogas had a strong future of the highly centralised energy system prioritising the orientation but detailed critical debate anticipating and need to provide energy for large-scale industrial plants. evaluating the future potential of the technology was Decentralised and currently minor energy sources, such largely missing both regarding practical niche-level as biogas, have not yet fully challenged the Finnish en- technologies and national-level energy policy. This is ergy regime that is strongly based on centralised energy partially explained by a strong focus on domestic is- production. The adoption of small-scale biogas tech- sues of the Finnish energy and agriculture sectors and nologies is still in its elongated early phase, with clear relatively scarce reflection on experiences in other potential for rapid expansion and forming part of a re- countries. During the recent years in particular, the gime through a socio-technological transition. coverage in MT increasingly highlighted the economic subsidies as a key issue for the future development of Conclusions the biogas sector. This has shifted the focus towards The newspaper coverage of biogas in Finland showed an national-level policy issues from niche-level technological increasing and relatively high volume of specialised news development and potential disruptive technologies chal- coverage, presence of multiple actors voicing their views, lenging the current energy system. For example, reporting and a dominant framing of biogas as a potential energy connecting biogas production with hydrogen economy solution with multiple benefits and a strong temporal [63] or other future energy technologies was completely focus on future issues. The news coverage was strongly missing from the news agenda. Thus, long-term impli- influenced by the activities of a few forerunners of bio- cations of present day energy solutions were poorly ad- gas production and some prominent policymakers inter- dressed. Lack of coverage over technical details and ested in promoting biogas. Media contents are one experiences from the use of biogas plants decreased op- factor influencing the lock-ins and transformations of portunities for learning about the specific local charac- energy production and consumption, among many other teristics of biogas plants. contributing factors. As shown by the Finnish newspaper Lyytimäki et al. 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