What we really need to know about public attitudes to wind farms

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A couple of simple questions:

1. Do you support the existence of motorways?

2. Do you support the existence of railways?

99.999% of people will say yes to both questions, at least I guess they would.

Now. Here is another question.

Would you like to live beside a motorway or a railway?

Suddenly I’m not sure if 99.999% of people will answer yes. In fact, I’m confident the majority would say no.

Let’s try another one.

Do you support onshore wind farms?

Apparently, 65% of people in Britain support onshore wind farms. But, does this really tell us what we need to know? If 65% of people support onshore wind farms, then we can be absolutely certain that the percentage who would support one being built near them is much lower. Yet we don’t bother trying to find out what that percentage would be.

This is where we should be careful about polls showing wind farms are much more popular than coal, gas, oil, nuclear or anything else some people don’t deem to be green.

The problem for wind farms is not NIMBYism per se, it is the number of back yards you need to put the wind farms in.

We can see this be considering Drax power plant in Yorkshire. This is a rather big 4 GW power plant. But it has the advantage of being very concentrated in space. It takes up much less room than a wind farm would.

If we wanted to replace Drax with a wind farm, here is roughly how much land it would require:

Drax

Now, you can see that replacing Drax with a wind farm will require a lot of wind turbines to be placed in a lot of back yards. And this is not easily done.

So what do public opinion polls about general support for wind farms really tell us?

A simple number: If Britain wanted to get all of its energy needs from onshore wind it would need to cover roughly half of Britain in wind turbines.

Would the 65% of supports for onshore wind farms agree to this? Probably not.

But what would they agree with? What percentage would support covering 10% of Britain in wind turbines? Or 20%? Or 5%?

These are the key questions. Yet, no pollsters seem to bother asking them.

In the meanwhile, of course, the aesthetic reactionaries of the Conservative Party seem to be gearing up to effectively ban new onshore wind farms. This whole discussion is likely to be redundant.

I’ll just conclude that we cannot cover more than 1% of Britain in wind turbines.

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4 thoughts on “What we really need to know about public attitudes to wind farms

    Simon Evans (@DrSimEvans) said:
    May 27, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    You say that “no pollsters seem to bother” to ask for opinion on windfarms near where people live. Sorry – this is not true. See for example:
    http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2013/08/polling-shows-only-a-quarter-of-conservative-voters-wants-fracking-in-their-area/
    http://www.renewableuk.com/en/news/press-releases.cfm/2013-10-27-opinion-poll-shows-70-in-favour-of-wind-farms-near-them
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/18/tory-mps-more-likely-to-oppose-windfarms-than-british-public-poll

    You also say the government is going to “effectively ban” new onshore wind. This also isn’t true, even though they said they’d do it. They’re going to change planning rules to hand the decision even for large windfarms to local authorities (who often approve the developments). The bigger issue is what happens to subsidies, and we don’t know the answer to that yet.

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      Robert Wilson said:
      May 27, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      This is a very literal minded response. And your links aren’t very convincing. 2 of them are public relations polls conducted by industry. This only confirms that there is a real lack of serious polling on the issue. Who cares about polls commissioned by Renewables UK?

      I said the Tories are gearing up to effectively ban onshore wind farms. I can’t really see what your objection to this is. This is their intention. You seem to agree that this is what their intention is, so where is your disagreement with me saying they are gearing up to do it?

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    johnrussell40 said:
    May 27, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    I’m pleased you blogged about this, Robert.

    With more than 80% of the UK population living in cities it’s bloody obvious that the vast majority will support on-shore windfarms—because there’s not a chance in hell a wind turbine will be erected anywhere near where they live. If you then asked the same people, “would you choose to stay at a caravan or campsite or rent a holiday cottage, in a place close to a wind turbine”, they’d most likely answer a resounding, “no”.

    So if we exclude everyone who lives in cities and suburbs, where there’s not a chance of a turbine being erected and asked those remaining whether they’d mind having a turbine close to their house? The ‘no’ response would be, I would guess, less than 1%.

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    michaelroberts4004 said:
    May 27, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    Reblogged this on Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin.

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