As Benjamin Disraeli said, ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.’*
RenewableUK, the voice of the wind and solar power industry, and the Department for Business, Energy & 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 percent – 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 neighbors.
There are roughly 10,961 onshore wind turbines in the UK with 8,366 or 76 percent of them in Scotland. An additional further 1,722 turbines are going through the planning process in Scotland.
Many are up to 260m tall (about 850ft), a height previously considered suitable only for offshore locations.
Since 2013, when most turbines were under 150m (about 500ft), the Scottish Government has recognized that there are adverse environmental impacts of wind farms on communities and recommends a minimum separation distance of 2km (about a mile and a quarter).
If the adverse impacts of wind turbines are recognized to affect rural host communities rather than urban communities, it would seem sensible to weight the respondents in a poll of opinions regarding onshore wind farms in favor of rural residents.
And if three-quarters of turbines in the UK are in Scotland, wouldn’t it be logical that three-quarters of respondents to a poll on wind turbines should be from Scotland?
The latest RenewableUK poll conducted by YouGov claimed to show ‘overwhelming support’ of 70 percent for onshore wind farms, but the questions did not define either how many turbines comprise a wind farm or how high the turbines would be.
There would obviously be a big difference in the acceptability of a 20m turbine and a 260m turbine at the bottom of your garden. Of the 1,700 respondents to the poll, only 7 percent (119) were from Scotland.
That is 0.002 percent of the Scottish population. Of those 119, only 38 (32 percent) replied that they lived within five miles of a wind farm. That is 0.0007 percent 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.
Even the paltry 38 Scottish rural respondents were not within 2 km, but 8 km (5 miles) of a wind farm.
This distance is likely to include rural residents who receive ‘community benefit’ from the wind farm developer but are too far away to suffer any direct adverse impact. The survey should have focused on rural residents within 2 to 3 km of a wind farm.
RenewableUK has interpreted results from a statistically skewed section of the UK public to show that there is ‘overwhelming’ support for onshore wind farms.
As the mouthpiece of the renewable industry, it might be expected that any poll would be biased in favor of commercial concerns.
It is more worrying that results from this and similarly unreliable and biased polls are widely quoted by mainstream media such as the BBC and used by the Government to inform and underpin policy, justifying the push for further expansion of wind farms in the name of reducing carbon emissions, regardless of impacts on hapless rural residents and environmental damage.
The most recent BEIS poll of public attitudes in March 2021 is equally flawed. Of the 267 respondents from Scotland (6.6 percent of the sample) only 47 were rural respondents who are most likely to know what it is like to live next to a wind farm of industrial proportions.
The results suggested that 83 percent of the Scottish populace are in support of renewables providing our electricity, but even the BEIS had the grace to acknowledge that the numbers were too small to be statistically significant. (Personal communication with Scotland Against Spin).
It’s high time that we had a proper survey of public opinion in Scotland, where three-quarters of all UK onshore turbines are located and where planning permission is granted by Scottish Ministers against the will of local people for some of the tallest onshore turbines in the world.
It’s time that the people of rural Scotland are not just regarded as collateral damage by both the Scottish and UK Governments.
*This quote was popularized in the U.S. by Mark Twain and others, and mistakenly attributed it to the former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
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