I have studied wind power as it is developing in Australia for more than ten years. In the early years of Australian wind power development – from the first wind farm at Esperance in 1987 to around ten years ago – there was practically no opposition to wind farms. Serious opposition is a phenomenon that has arisen in the last five years or so.
What is the opposition all about? Why do people oppose wind power? Can we say anything about the type of people who oppose wind power developments? Can we say what motivates them?
There are several things that the great majority of the wind power opposition have in common:
- A willingness to exaggerate, use half-truths, misleadingly twist the facts, or simply to lie;
- They repeat fallacies that have been created by other, earlier, wind power opponents; they do little checking of the facts;
- If they do any research, they cherry-pick the evidence (see below);
- They ignore the damage to health due to the air pollution from burning coal;
- They either deny climate science or place more importance on their own selfish concerns than on the damage that climate change and ocean acidification is doing to our planet.
This suggests several things:
- The opponents do not have many valid objections to wind power;
- The valid objections that do exist are not serious enough to significantly help the opponents achieve their aims;
- The opponents feel that the general population is ignorant about wind power and will not recognise the misinformation as such;
- Some, at least, of the opponents are themselves ignorant that many of the arguments they use are false.
There are two main classes of people who oppose wind farm developments:
- Those who have financial reasons; these people are usually supporting the mining and/or fossil fuel industries;
- Those who are more concerned about the impact that a local wind farm will have on them personally than they are about what it will do for the region, the nation, and the planet. (Many of the concerns of this group come from the accumulated misinformation built up by other wind power opponents).
The former group is usually opposing wind power in general, while the latter group are against a local development. The former group is fundamentally dishonest, while the latter group are more mixed. The reasons that they oppose wind farms include fear that the wind turbines will make them ill or that the noise will be unbearable and a belief that their land values or farming practices will suffer. There is no factual basis for these fears and beliefs; they have grown out of a misinformation campaign, partly orchestrated and encouraged by those who have a financial interest in stopping renewable energy developments and partly grown out of the repetition of the irrational beliefs and fears by an irresponsible and sensational media and by other wind power opponents.
Another reason that people will oppose a nearby wind farm is envy of their neighbours who will do very well financially out of the development. This is particularly strong in those people who might have had wind turbines on their land, but missed out because they demanded more money than the developer was willing to pay. (Imagine how they would feel when it started to look like their less greedy neighbours were going to be getting perhaps $15,000 per turbine per year while they themselves would entirely miss out!)
Most opponents are very willing to cherry-pick evidence. A good example of this is to do with land values. There are a very few cases of courts deciding that a wind farm, or a proposed wind farm, has caused a decrease in land values. The great majority of the evidence, including a number of studies, have shown that there is no significant or long-term decline in land values linked with nearby wind farms. The opponents reference the few court decisions while ignoring the bulk of the evidence.