Is onshore wind unpopular?

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On the Guardian website Damian Carrington claims that the “public overwhelmingly supports” onshore wind power. As evidence he links to a poll comparing public attitudes to wind farms with those to shale, which seems slightly besides the point. So what polling does exist?

The only long term polling I know of public attitudes to wind power is one done by yougov on behalf of EdF. They asked the following:

There are various kinds of power station that could be built to contribute to filling the energy gap. For each type of power station, please say whether you would support or oppose it being built.

There’s certainly a lot to quibble with over the wording, for example it doesn’t get at how much onshore or offshore windfarms people would support. But as indications of long term trends, the question is probably good enough. These are the results for onshore and offshore wind (I’ve coloured onshore green and offshore blue). [EdF ran the poll twice in 2011 because being in the nuclear business meant Fukushima was bad news.]

It’s clear that there has been a big drop in public support for both onshore and offshore. Let’s look closely at the differences between attitudes in 2008 and 2012.

Both onshore and offshore wind have seen declines in support of about 15% in the last 4 years. What is interesting is that their declines in support are almost identical. Offshore wind consistently gets 10-11% more support than onshore wind.

Now, let’s see how onshore wind compares with nuclear (I’ll colour nuclear yellow)

Other than the brief drop due to Fukushima, nuclear support has been fairly stable. What’s more striking is that if trends continue onshore wind likely will soon have less support than nuclear power.

Now, let’s bring another table out. Estimates of the cost of various sources of low carbon power from the Committee on Climate Change.

Now, again we can quibble about the details. However very few would honestly argue that onshore wind and nuclear power are not the two cheapest low carbon options here. Despite this, opinion polls show that Offshore Wind, Solar, Tidal and Wave are all more popular. And this is a far more ideal situation.

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6 thoughts on “Is onshore wind unpopular?

    Clive Bates (@Clive_Bates) said:
    November 15, 2012 at 10:27 am

    A complicating issue is that polls measure only one dimension of opinion. They don’t weight responses by strength of feeling or motivation to take action to achieve change – whether pro or anti. Nor do general polls test whether particularly influential interests are engaged – the reason why polls in marginals are scrutinised carefully, or nurses’ views on NHS reform. The political capital lined up behind an issue is:

    Clout = numbers x motivation x influence

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      Robert Wilson said:
      November 15, 2012 at 10:38 am

      Clive

      This is very true. I have actually seen close to zero polling of public attitudes in rural areas on wind farms, for example. The Guardian often rehashes polls done by the renewables industry designed to give them the results that want, asking questions like “Would you support a wind farm within 2 miles of your house?” They never seem to bother restricting it only to people who could have a windfarm built near their house.

      It’s been clear from the start that public opinion would, in the long term, go against onshore wind. After all politicians would never agree to subsidise offshore wind if they thought they public loved onshore wind. Real issue has been how quickly it would happen.

      Environmentalists seem to want to bury their heads in the sand and claim onshore wind is popular. It’s possible if there was honest discussion of the relative cost of renewables that it may change. I would like to see polling on the perceptions of the cost of renewables. I would not be surprised if people don’t realize onshore wind is twice as cheap as the rest.

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    Albert Rogers said:
    December 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    How many of the people polled on CCS know anything about the quantities of CO2 to be buried underground? I’d like to see a poll that included the millions of tons that 1 GWa of coal requires, versus the few hundred tons of mostly uranium that current US nuclear practice regards as an unsolved problem, or the hundreds of pounds of fission products that a breeder reactor produces for the same energy!

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    […] turbines and not 50,000. Is my original choice of 3 MW too low then? Arguably the opposite. Public opposition to windfarms is growing rapidly. Offshore wind may end up dominating new build by the end of the decade, in which case average […]

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    […] Which is it? Is opposition to onshore wind barely 10% of people in the UK, or over a quarter? Consideration of another poll by Yougov seems to indicate it is much more likely to be the latter. What question is more likely to give you an accurate feel for the level of opposition to onshore windfarms: “Do you support or oppose onshore wind?” or “Do you support or oppose wind farms on the land?” It’s almost certain that everyone knows what the latter means, yet the phrase “onshore wind” may be something a lot of people aren’t aware of. With this in mind I am a lot more inclined to view Yougov’s poll as more reliable, which found that opposition to “wind farms on the land” has been above 11% every year since 2008, with it reaching an all time high in 2012 at 21%. This poll also indicates that opposition to wind power is increasing consistently year on year. […]

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    […] Which is it? Is opposition to onshore wind barely 10% of people in the UK, or over a quarter? Consideration of another poll by Yougov seems to indicate it is much more likely to be the latter. What question is more likely to give you an accurate feel for the level of opposition to onshore windfarms: “Do you support or oppose onshore wind?” or “Do you support or oppose wind farms on the land?” It’s almost certain that everyone knows what the latter means, yet the phrase “onshore wind” may be something a lot of people aren’t aware of. With this in mind I am a lot more inclined to view Yougov’s poll as more reliable, which found that opposition to “wind farms on the land” has been above 11% every year since 2008, with it reaching an all time high in 2012 at 21%. This poll also indicates thatopposition to wind power is increasing consistently year on year. […]

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