Thursday, October 20, 2016

Brits are strongly in favour of wind and solar farms after all

An interesting piece in The Guardian shows how most people are positively disposed to wind and solar farms, even if those same people assume that others are not, and if most press coverage of these new technologies is predominantly negative.
This perception gap was highlighted by a recent British poll which found that 73% of the British public support wind power, and an even larger percentage (80%) support solar farms. This support can be broken down into 65% of people in rural areas (a constituency widely thought to be anti-wind development) and 75% in urban areas. The age demographic is also telling, with 77% of young people (aged 18 - 24) in favour of wind power compared to 66% of over-65s. Support in Scotland, the windiest part of the country, was even higher, with an 80% approval rate, which accords with other studies suggesting that people are more likely to favour wind farms if they have a financial stake in them, and also that people who live near wind farms overwhelmingly feel that the turbines have improved their area (also contrary to popular belief).
Contrast this, though, with the perception of other people's support for wind power: when asked to estimate what percentage of the population agreed with their own suppport of wind farms, only 10% thought that 71% or more of people would also support wind farms. And, while 80% of people said they supported solar farms, just 11% expected that many people to agree with them.
In trying to explain this disconnect, one possible explanation might be found in the disproportionately negative nature of media editorials and comment pieces on wind power. A study by found that 52% of newspaper editorials were negative, 31% neutral, and only 17% positive. Over four times as many editorials were framed to look at the risks of the technology as were framed to look at the benefits (interestingly, editorial coverage of fracking showed the opposite relationship). This suggests that those who oppose wind power (and those who support fracking), for whatever reason, seem to be managing to find a disproportionate amount of space to air those views in the papers.
Make of all that what you will, but it does seem that then British Prime Minister David Cameron's 2014 cancellation of Britain's wind and renewables subsidies on the grounds that the public was "fed up" with wind farms was not actually based on good evidence, but rather was more likely to have been an attempt to placate the strong nuclear and fossil fuel lobbies. Didn't do him much good, though, did it?

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