UK wind farm opponents are older, better organized
Yes, high cost is a hurdle, as is the need for new transmission lines. But while the construction of wind farms has broad public support across the UK — more than 75 percent of people recently polled said they would be in favor of plans to build a wind farm close to where they live — only one-quarter of wind energy projects are winning public approval.
With what appears to be such high rates of wind farm acceptance, what explains the inability of wind farm developers to get projects off the ground in the UK? According to research presented last week at the RenewableUK Conference in Glasgow, one major factor is age: the older a person is, the more likely they will oppose a wind power project near their home.
The poll (pdf), conducted by NEMS Market Research for IPB Communications, found that younger people were far more supportive of local wind development. 86 percent of 16 to 34 year-olds said they would back proposals for a wind farm near their homes, and none of those polled under the age of 24 saying they they would oppose such plans.
But older folks were far less enthusiastic. 61 percent of people over 55 were in favor of building a wind farm near their home. And the number of retired people who opposed wind farms outnumbered working people by two to one.
"Younger people are clearly in favor of building wind farms for green energy - but they are not getting their message across," John Quinton-Barber of IPB Communications said while presenting the findings last week at the RenewableUK Conference.
"The opinions of older people seem to be taking priority when it comes to decision making," said IPB's Quinton-Barber. "The silent majority need to find their voice and take their views to councilors when it comes to renewable energy."
But it isn't just the older age that matters, age is also a determining factor in the likelihood a person will organize and participate in the process of local approval the UK Government has set up. And if the movement to support wind energy is loose and disorganized, the movement in opposition is anything but. There are currently 230 separate local campaign groups against wind farms in operation across the UK.
Opponents to wind energy development in the English countryside site noise and visual disturbances as their primary reasons for opposing utility-scale wind, saying instead the UK Government should focus on large offshore wind projects which have more consistent wind resource and are less obtrusive on the physical landscape.
“The windfarm industry had hoped to created 10,000 windfarms by now and they’ve only managed 2,500," Michael Hird of the Campaign against Windfarms recently said. "That is some success but there is still a long way to go.”
However, environmental groups and analysts say if the UK plans on meeting its target of generating 20 percent of its energy with renewable sources by 2020, new onshore projects must continue to go ahead. Martyn Williams of Friends of the Earth said he understood why people were opposed to wind farms in their local areas but stressed that a compromise needed to be worked out.
“The dilemma is that we believe people should be able to say what they want where they live but at the same time every part of the country has to do its bit if we are to get emissions down to a sustainable level," Williams said.