Opposition to wind turbines is not just of “not in my back yard” nature suggests research

Oposition statistics pose problems for the UK Government's target of 15% of renewable energy coming from green sources by 2015

Objections to wind turbines is not just 'nimby-ism', according to researchers at the University of Newcastle who are trying to uncover the reason for the gap between support for green energy and the objections that applications for wind turbines often encounter. According to Professor John F Benson, leader of the research, about 90% of wind farm applications in Scotland are accepted, in contrast to just 50% in England, with areas of the UK, for example Devon, having no such energy providers. These statistics pose problems for the government's target of 15% of renewable energy coming from green sources in 2015, and its aspiration of 20% by 2020, as set out in the energy white paper. The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council under the Environment and Human Behaviour Programme, aims to find out why people in theory support renewable energy, but in practice vociferous opposition to many projects is rife. It is speculated, particularly among developers of these farms, that local opposition to such projects can largely be put down to the 'not in my back yard' syndrome, where people's objections are purely based on reasons of self interest. This is too simplistic, says Professor Benson.

The project looks at the planning system and the opportunity for public participation and raises the question about what happens when the public give views, which run contrary to those of planners. The issue of where the power really lies in these decisions, and the issue of trust between the decision makers and the public is one that may go some way to helping the understanding of the 'renewable energy conflicts', suggest the researchers. The study is also looking at the knowledge divide between the experts and the public - where a project is opposed, the theory behind it is more likely to be questioned. This, the researchers say, brings the question of trust into the debate - how far people trust the government to act in their interest and how far they trust the developer to not work exclusively within the vision of profit. The value of the landscape and the local context, in terms of psychology, economy and society, is something that may spark opposition to the turbines, suggests Professor Benson and his team. Understanding these may help to alleviate controversy around individual farms, they say.

The research makes cross-national comparison with European countries and the UK and the divergence of attitudes and progression of renewable energy. "Europe has seen much more progression on wind farms than the UK," Professor Benson told edie. "There could be various reasons for this, we are looking at whether it is different attitudes of people towards the environment, a different planning system or different attitudes towards renewable energy with less emphasis on the landscape”. The project is due to finish by March next year, when it will make proposals, which the researchers hope, will inform public policy.
Online editorial www.windfair.net
Trevor Sievert, Online editorial journalist
Europe, UK, Scotland, England, wind turbines

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