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:
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.