Caithness councillor accuses renewable energy body of 'lazy, arrogant' claims over public support for onshore wind
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A Caithness councillor has accused a renewable energy trade body of making "lazy, complacent and arrogant" claims over the level of public approval for wind turbines.
Councillor Matthew Reiss said the assertion by RenewableUK that 70 per cent of people support building onshore wind farms "is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth".
He said national organisations should avoid making "sweeping generalisations" and acknowledge opposition from communities close to wind farm sites – highlighting the Limekiln project at Reay as an example.
Councillor Reiss, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council, was speaking after the campaign group Scotland Against Spin challenged London-based RenewableUK over its latest survey.
Writing this week on The Conservative Woman website, Scotland Against Spin chairman Graham Lang called the trade body's findings "unreliable and biased".
Councillor Reiss agreed, saying: “Having read the article, it's quite clear that the claim that 70 per cent of people are in favour of renewables is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
“I'm acutely aware that hundreds of local people have objected to some onshore wind farms in Caithness. I suspect a lot more than 70 per cent of people agree that the environment is a very important issue but also I am 100 per cent certain that a very large number of people in this ward have a general feeling that Caithness is doing a huge amount in terms of producing renewable energy and has a proud history of producing energy in different forms.
“It has struck me for a number of years now that government and other large organisations very seldom even acknowledge the fact that there is a significant body of local people who object to particular projects.
“I think Caithness people understand that tourism is a huge resource for the county. Lots of people come here because of the unspoilt natural environment, and that produces jobs which produce prosperity and, ultimately, reverse population decline.
“This assertion [about 70 per cent support] is a rather lazy, complacent and slightly arrogant statement with an abject failure to acknowledge that there are local circumstances where the position is very different.
“If you take for example the Limekiln wind farm development at Reay, I was always struck that the hundreds of people who objected simply wanted to look after their own natural environment and they put a far higher price on protecting that environment than on the community benefit that was being offered.
“People frequently say to me that the drive for more and larger onshore wind farms close to communities is not driven by environmental concerns but is very plainly driven by the pound sign."
Councillor Reiss added: “RenewableUK should acknowledge that the picture is much more complicated than making these sweeping generalisations and frankly there is a need for a bit of balance – there are two sides to this debate.”
In his article, Mr Lang states: "RenewableUK, the voice of the wind and solar power industry, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [BEIS] are keen to demonstrate that there is overwhelming public support for the development of onshore and offshore wind farms, despite increasingly vocal protests from host communities and from environmentalists concerned for the damage caused to peatlands, birds and other wildlife.
"So how can RenewableUK justify announcements like this, from a press release in May: ‘Support for building onshore wind farms remains overwhelmingly high at 70 per cent – with levels of support exactly the same among people who live within five miles of a wind farm as those living elsewhere’?
"The answer is in the use of statistics and framing the questions to give the pollsters the answers they want, or by asking the opinions of only a select group of the public. It seems very likely that RenewableUK and BEIS seek to obscure the views of those forced to accept industrial wind turbines as their near neighbours."
Mr Lang notes that there are 10,961 onshore wind turbines in the UK, with 8366 or 76 per cent of them in Scotland. A further 1722 turbines are going through the planning process in Scotland, he says. "Many are up to 260m tall (about 850ft), a height previously considered suitable only for offshore locations."
Referring to the recent RenewableUK poll, Mr Lang says: "Of the 1700 respondents, only seven per cent (119) were from Scotland. That is 0.002 per cent of the Scottish population. Of those 119, only 38 replied that they lived within five miles of a wind farm. That is 0.0007 per cent of the Scottish population. Choosing so few respondents from the UK area with the most onshore turbines in a poll seeking to determine public opinion on the issue makes the results inherently unreliable.
"In contrast, there were 192 respondents from London. Why ask Londoners their opinion of living within five miles of an onshore turbine when there are none anywhere near? They can have no idea of the adverse impacts of noise, disruption to water supplies, overwhelming visual intrusion and impacts on property prices caused by living near a large wind farm."
He claims RenewableUK "has interpreted results from a statistically skewed section of the UK public to show that there is ‘overwhelming’ support for onshore wind farms".
A spokesman for RenewableUK said its polling had been carried out independently by YouGov. "We would prefer to keep engaging on a factual basis," he said, adding: "It is not only the YouGov polling which shows that there is a high level of public support for onshore wind nationwide."
YouGov was also invited to comment.