Windfarms may be more popular than we think.
A University of St Andrews academic has established that large majorities of people in Scotland and Ireland are strongly in favour of their local windfarm, with only those living near proposed windfarm sites being less convinced.
A team led by Dr Charles Warren of the School of Geography and Geosciences studied the perceptions and actual experiences of those with a windfarm in their ‘backyard’ and found overwhelming support for the technology. Although people living near a proposed windfarm site are usually less convinced, sizeable majorities still favour their construction.
Research was carried out at several windfarms in the Scottish Borders and in south-west Ireland. Tourism is economically important in both regions and they are renowned for their scenic beauty, so the prospect of an upsurge of windfarms had been a cause for concern. However, Dr Warren established that, although people expected a range of negative impacts, these fears were not realised. In most cases, people found that their worries about landscape impacts and noise were unfounded, with surprising numbers even finding the windfarms a positive addition. These findings might seem unusual but, in fact, the consistent conclusion of all similar surveys is that large majorities of people living near windfarms like them.
Dr Warren said, “The press, it seems, give disproportionate emphasis to the vocal minority that opposes wind power while ignoring the silent, contented and less newsworthy majority”.
Nevertheless, Dr Warren acknowledges that there are real issues associated with the impacts of windfarms on landscape aesthetics, and is calling for a clear, strategic planning framework to guide the location of windfarm development and reduce the uncertainty around cumulative development effects.
“Much of the noisy debate over windfarms comes down to ‘location, location, location’ – site selection and scale are crucial and cumulative impacts must be considered”, Dr Warren added.
Interestingly, the study found that opponents and advocates of windfarms see the world through different lenses – zoomed in and zoomed out. Opponents typically focus on local environmental effects such as noise and landscape impacts, whereas those who favour windfarms often focus on global environmental problems and the need to adopt renewable energy as part of the solution.
“Despite the fierce opposition to many proposed windfarms, the strong policy support for wind power makes it probable that many will go ahead. Wind could become an important new ‘crop’ for rural areas, and windfarms may come to represent new cultural landscapes for the early 21st century. This is already the case in Denmark where, because turbines have been adopted as an integral part of the landscape, there would be a public outcry if they were removed!”
The windfarms studied by Dr Warren’s team were Dun Law and Black Hill in the Scottish Borders, and Currabwee, Milane Hill, Beenageeha and Tuarsillagh in south-west Ireland. The research was conducted in July/August 2003 and is published in the November 2005 issue of the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management.
NOTE TO EDITORS – For more information, please contact Dr Charles Warren on telephone 01334 463693.
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