Efforts by many governments to mitigate climate change by increasing deployment of renewable energy technologies have raised the importance of issues of public acceptance. The ‘NIMBY’ (Not In My Backyard) concept, although popular, has been critiqued as an appropriate and valid way to explain local opposition. This study applies an alternative approach, empirically investigating the role of place attachment and place-related symbolic meanings in explaining public responses to a tidal energy converter in Northern Ireland, said to be the first grid-connected device of its kind in the world. 271 residents in two nearby villages completed questionnaire surveys, three months post-installation, following up preliminary qualitative research using focus groups. Although results indicated predominantly positive and supportive responses to the project, manifest by emotional responses and levels of acceptance, significant differences between residents in each village were also observed. Contrasting patterns of association between place attachment and emotional responses suggest that the project enhanced rather than disrupted place attachments only in one of the two villages. In regression analyses, place attachment emerged as a significant, positive predictor of project acceptance in both places, affirming its value in explaining public response. Place-related symbolic meanings also emerged as significant, with contrasting sets of meanings proving significant in each context. Implications of the findings for research on place attachment and responses to land-use changes, as well as for developers seeking to engage with residents affected by energy projects are discussed.