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A case study
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How people react to wind turbines

I have followed wind farm development in Australia for more than ten years; a period that has seen Australia's total installed wind power go from 92MW (at the beginning of 2003) to more than 2500MW (at the beginning of 2013). On this page I discuss the factors that cause the highly variable public reaction following the announcement of a proposed wind farm.

Written 2012/12/30, modified 2015/04/10
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com, intelligent feedback is welcome
This is a page of Wind in the Bush
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Pre-existing sections on my pages that are connected with the subject of this page deal with opinion surveys, and the attitude and motivations of wind power supporters and objectors.
Some people like wind turbines and some don't. Perceptions, priorities and opinions are important; some important factors are:
  • The importance one places on the need to develop renewable energy sources and move away from the dependence on the fossil fuels that are largely responsible for climate change and ocean acidification;
  • One's attitude to the local area: are the turbines seen as an intrusion?
  • Simple aesthetics; do the local people like the look of turbines or find them ugly?
  • What one has heard or read about wind power and wind turbines; unfortunately much of this has been false and misleading.
These are legitimate areas of concern; others are listed on another page on this site.

A case study

Why is one wind farm built with very little local opposition, while another, not far away, seems to have heavy opposition? What follows is speculation, but is based on observations made during the proposal and construction of a number of wind farms in Australia.

Wattle Point Wind Farm

Wattle Point Wind Farm was completed in 2005 with very little opposition.

Snowtown Wind Farm

Snowtown Wind Farm was completed in 2008, and was expanded in 2013/14, both stages had very little opposition.

Ceres Project

Sixty kilometres north of Wattle Point WF and eighty kilometres south of Snowtown WF, this wind farm, proposed in 2012, has had a considerable amount of opposition. Why is this case so different to Wattle Point and Snowtown?

Several factors are relevant here:

Timing
Wind farm opposition has become more organised and vocal over the period from 2008 to 2012.

Land use
The Ceres Project is to be built on land that is more productive agriculturally than the other two wind farms.

Disappointment
One or more of those involved with the anti-Ceres campaign were offered wind turbines but rejected the offer because they wanted more money than was on offer.

A few determined people
There are two or three very active, determined and dishonest people who are the prime movers of the opposition to the Ceres Project.
 
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Discussion

Timing
Over the last ten years there has been time for many opponents of wind farms to spread a number of fallacies that have become a sort of a folklore on the Internet and among wind farm opposition groups. For example, there is absolutely no valid reason to claim that a modern utility-scale wind turbine is inefficient, yet it is one of the most frequent claims made by detractors. Maurice Newman, the man who heads Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Advisory Council managed to squeeze nine similar common fallacies into one sentence.

It seems that some people, when they hear that a wind farm is to be built nearby, look at the 'information' available on the Internet (and perhaps in the popular press and elsewhere), find fallacies that show wind power in a negative light, and repeat them without looking into their veracity. Ten years ago such misinformation was not available, so an opponent would, first, have not developed such a strong negative impression and, second, would not have had a library of fallacies to repeat.

Land use
It should be said that this is in reality largely irrelevant – the wind farm will only very slightly affect agricultural yields and the area available to agriculture – but it has had a big emotional impact due to the very effective misinformation campaign. The US experience shows that agriculture and wind power are highly compatible.

Disappointment
One or more of those involved in the anti-Ceres campaign could have had several wind turbines on their land, earning around $15 000 per year just by being there, but they rejected the offer hoping for even more money. It is not hard to imagine how they felt when they missed out alltogether but found that their neighbours would be getting turbines.

If anything like this happened at Snowtown or Wattle Point I have not heard of it.

A few determined people
These two or three people have been willing to finance and organise a misinformation campaign which involved things like public meetings, setting up an Internet site, a full page advertisement in the local paper and paying a firm of lawyers to write threatening letters to the land holders who are expecting to host the turbines.


People tend to be easily mislead into nonsensical beliefs. Several recent unsubstantiated, but common, beliefs have been:

  • Vaccinations do more harm than good;
  • Mobile phone towers and electro-magnetic radiation from power lines can give you cancer;
  • Wind turbines can make you sick;
  • Recently, smart meters can make you sick (also see elsewhere).
 
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General

Over the last decade a large pool of misinformation has been built up about wind power. Generally the more ill-informed anti-wind Net sites can be recognised by their frequent use of insulting and abusive language, and the writers often hide behind anonymity. On Stop These Things you will read the sort of language one would be likely to hear from ill-educated seventh-grade kids during an argument in a school yard. Two others are National Wind Watch and the Australian anti-wind site, Swindle.

The lies told by such people then cause unjustified concerns in the general public, especially in relation to noise and health.

There also seems to be a well funded misinformation campaign coming from the mining and fossil fuel industries via organisations like the right wing think tank The Institute of Public Affairs and its off-shoot, the misleadingly named Australian Environment Foundation. (See notes on Australian Landscape Guardians). The Murdoch media, through articles published by people like the 'Environment Editor', Graham Lloyd, are also complicit in the misinformation campaigns that increase the public's negativity toward wind power.

The great majority of Australians are in favour of wind power, as has been shown in a number of surveys, but sometimes this approval disapears when wind farms are proposed nearby.






Links

Negativity and symptom reporting

"The influence of negative oriented personality traits on the effects of wind turbine noise"; by Jennifer Taylor, Carol Eastwick, Robin Wilson, Claire Lawrence; published in Science Direct.

Quoting from the Abstract:

"All households near ten small and micro wind turbines in two UK cities completed measures of perceived turbine noise, Neuroticism, Negative Affectivity, Frustration Intolerance, attitude to wind turbines, and NSS [non specific symptoms] (response N = 138). Actual turbine noise level for each household was also calculated. There was no evidence for the effect of calculated actual noise on NSS. The relationship between perceived noise and NSS was only found for individuals high in NOP [negative oriented personality] traits the key role of individual differences in the link between perceived (but not actual) environmental characteristics and symptom reporting."

Psychology

Another page on this site lists the links relating psychology to wind turbine reaction.

General links

Mike Barnard wrote a short summary; see number 6 in the page.

Many other links to sources relating to wind power are on a dedicated page.



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