from Sunday Herald, 24 August 2003
The vast majority of people who live near wind farms think they have caused no environmental problems, according to a comprehensive new opinion poll due to be released by the Scottish Executive today.
Three times as many people say a wind farm has had a positive impact on their area as say it has had a negative impact. And the closer they live to the wind machines, the more positive they think their impact has been.
These findings have delighted the wind power industry, which is in the middle of a rapid expansion aimed at cutting pollution . But they have been dismissed by the anti-wind-power lobby, which accuses Scotland of being “barmy” and the Executive of being “utterly loopy”.
The Executive commissioned Mori in February to carry out a survey to replace an earlier one that was withdrawn after an anti-wind-power campaigner spotted that it used an incorrect grid reference which could have skewed the results.
The new poll, which interviewed more than four times as many people, shows overwhelming support for wind power. Four out of five people living within 20km of one of Scotland’s 10 wind farms said it had caused no problems.
Although significant numbers of people had feared there would be problems before the wind farms were built, many of their concerns evaporated afterwards. The 27% worried that the landscape might be spoiled shrunk to 12% after construction, while fears of extra traffic, noise or damage to wildlife all but disappeared.
Some 20% of those interviewed felt their local wind farm had had a generally positive impact . This compared with 7% who felt it had had a negative impact, 51% who had mixed views and 22% who expressed no opinion.
Those living within 5km of a wind farm were the most enthusiastic, with 45% saying the impact had been positive and just 6% suggesting it had been negative. Those living 5-10km away were only slightly less keen, with 43% saying the impact had been positive.
There was also support for expanding wind farms. Of all those interviewed who lived within 20km, 54% would back a 50% increase in the number of wind turbines. Only 9% would oppose such an expansion.
The survey is to be unveiled today by deputy enterprise minister Lewis Macdonald. He is expected to say that the results support the Executive’s target of producing 40% of Scotland’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.
He will accept that some people have concerns about wind farms, but argue that the survey does not show significant local opposition. He will also say that wave power, other hydro schemes and biomass energy (released from the burning of wood, rubbish and agricultural waste) will also play a role in meeting the renewables target.
The reaction from Sir Bernard Ingham – Margaret Thatcher’s chief spin doctor when she was prime minister and the vice-president of the anti-wind-farm group, Country Guardian – was fierce. The survey was “absolute bunkum”, he said.
When informed that most people surveyed thought there were no problems with wind farms, he said: “And how many of them were deaf and blind? I don’t believe a word of it.
“It’s been commissioned by the Scottish Executive, which is utterly loopy about renewable sources of energy. They’ve taken no advice whatsoever from engineers. They have targets which are utterly risible.
“Scotland is barmy. But there again, what would you expect with the Scottish Executive and the Scottish parliament? You would expect it to be utterly politically correct and totally incompetent.”
He said wind turbines were an impractical power source and a “blot on the landscape”.
The survey was, however, warmly welcomed by the wind industry and environmentalists. “The result makes it clear that communities already near a wind farm see it as a good neighbour ,” said Maf Smith, development manager with the Scottish Renewables Forum, which represents the industry.
“Concerns about landscape, noise and traffic are not borne out, with people becoming supporters of wind power as a result of their own direct experience.”
Smith predicts that one day wind turbines will be common . “ This is proof that Scotland wants wind, that people understand that wind works; brings clean, green power; creates jobs and has a place in the Scottish countryside,” he said.
Friends of the Earth Scotland said the poll was encouraging. “It clearly shows the public are fully behind the Executive’s plans and that communities have nothing to fear from the sensitive siting of renewable-energy schemes,” said chief executive Duncan McLaren. “Previous surveys have shown support for wind farms, but never on such a scale.”
A study for the Executive published in December 2001 concluded that wind farms could provide twice as much electricity as Scotland uses on the coldest winter’s day, without siting any farms on the 70% of land protected for its scenic beauty or wildlife habitats.
Views of Scotland, which co-ordinates opposition to wind farms , declined to comment until it had seen the survey. The group’s spokeswoman, Gillian Bishop, said she had discovered the mistake in the earlier survey and forced its withdrawal.