Advertising watchdog slams anti-wind farm group over exaggerated turbine photos

This story about a wind project in the UK comes from Business Green, article by Jessica Shankleman.

Please check their website for all the comparison photos mentioned in the text.

ASA bans Save Berkeley Vale campaigners from using inaccurate photomontages after council rejects proposal for Ecotricity wind farm

An anti-wind farm group has been banned by the advertising watchdog from using exaggerated photomontages of proposed turbines to campaign against a planned £9m project in Stroud, just one day after councillors rejected the plan because of visual impact concerns.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) yesterday ruled that photomontages produced by the Save Berkeley Vale (SBV) campaign group illustrating Ecotricity’s proposed 9.2MW Berkeley Vale wind park breached industry rules on ‘misleading advertising’ and ‘substantiation’.

The Save Berkeley Vale (SBV) photomontage

The watchdog concluded that the group had placed wind turbines in the wrong place and overstated the length of the blades and height of the towers in the mock-up.

On Tuesday, elected councillors in Stroud District rejected Ecotricity’s planning application because of concerns the turbines would spoil the view, despite a recommendation from council planning officials to progress with the project.

The county strategic planning officers said the contribution of renewable energy from the wind farm and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would outweigh any visual impact.

SBV maintained local residents would not have been influenced by the photomontage.

However, Ecotricity is concerned that the SBV campaign group’s exaggerated mock-up photos could have influenced the council’s decision because the photos were displayed at council meetings. The company is now preparing an appeal against the planning decision.

Ecotricity also issued its own photomontage, and included information on the exact location, tripod height and lens to make the mock-up as near to what the human eye would see from the spot it would be taken.

The Ecotricity photomontage

After receiving a complaint from Ecotricity about SBV’s photo mock-ups, the ASA appointed an independent expert to re-create its own photomontage of the wind farm.

Upholding the complaint yesterday, the ASA said that despite SBV’s attempts to accurately portray the proposal, its image placed three of the four turbines in the wrong location, exaggerated the spread of the proposed wind farm on the landscape, overstated the extent of blade sweep, and gave the impression that the turbines were taller.

“We understood [SBV] had double-checked their methodology, calculated the positioning of the camera and lenses based on information provided by Ecotricity, and considered issues such as sunlight,” said the ruling.

“However, we noted that our expert’s photomontage had shown a number of discrepancies in the SBV photomontage, which gave an exaggerated impression of the appearance of the turbines. We therefore concluded that the leaflet gave a misleading impression of the visual impact that the proposed turbines would have.”

The group is now banned from using that photomontage in any campaigning material.

Jack Sant, SBV chairman, said the image has not been used since the ruling. “The judgement considered a small A5 flyer which was distributed to about 160 households in the immediate vicinity, inviting them to attend a meeting at the village hall,” he said. “The measurement of the photo at the top of the flyer was 3 x 11 centimetres. We would imagine this flyer would have been binned within a week.”

Speaking to BusinessGreen, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said the company’s planned appeal against the council’s decision could cost up to £100,000. He argued that the councillors who rejected the proposal should pay the cost of appeal if the farm does eventually get the go-ahead.

“This is not a democratic decision; this is where the planning system falls flat on its face,” he said, adding that a survey carried out last year by GfK NOP found 66 per cent of local people supported Ecotricity’s proposals for a wind park at Berkeley Vale, with just 12 per cent against.

He added that growing numbers of proposed wind farms were facing misleading or exaggerated photomontages designed undermine support for developments.

“It’s really common for somebody to whip up their own representation and use it to scare neighbours and friends,” he said.

Ecotricity also accused SBV of using a photomontage on its website to exaggerate the visual impact of the wind farm’s mast.

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