Stakeholder engagement lessons from opposition to onshore wind

Renewables consistently benefit from high levels of public support in national polls, but local opposition remains. Here's what it tells us.

Scout Moor in Lancashire is home to the UK's largest onshore wind farm. 

In 2015, Peel Energy applied for planning permission to extend it, replacing the existing turbines with a smaller number of larger variants. The local council refused permission.

Among the consultation responses from local people and groups were multiple references to landscape impacts and greenbelt encroachment. One submission reads "The massive alien structures which form the existing Scout Moor Wind Farm tower above vast areas of this horizontal, formally open moorland, over-shadowing and dominating the area."

This is not uncommon. But it is initially puzzling in the context of the public support expressed for wind energy in national polls. The government's quarterly Public Attitudes Tracker, for instance, consistently puts public support for renewables at between 75 and 80% with 67% saying they support onshore wind specifically.

So, what's happening?

It seems that, when asked about their views on wind farms in an abstract sense, people are very supportive. But once we move from the abstract to a local reality, opinion shifts significantly. There's a recognition that wind farms offer us benefits in terms of lower-carbon energy and meeting our targets for renewables, but, as ever, people would rather the wind farms be sited elsewhere and not in or near their community.

For obvious reasons, it's difficult to hide a cluster of 115 metre tall wind turbines on a hilltop, and so they will always have an impact on the local landscape wherever wind farms are built. New infrastructure developments like onshore wind always threaten change for potentially affected communities, and it's this resistance to change that in many ways lies at the heart of local opposition as we pointed out in this earlier blog - you can see it clearly in the reference to 'formally open moorland' contained in the objection to the Scout Moor extension, which the author clearly feels will impact on their happiness (see also this blog on Health, Wealth and Happiness).

Developers and decision-makers therefore need to make a stronger case for onshore wind, highlighting the national need but also better articulating the many local benefits - particularly for future generations. 

Views of previously unspoilt countryside will always look different to people that have grown used to them as they once were. But just like lattice electricity pylons that first came to the UK in Edinburgh in 1928, the generations that grow-up with them won't see them as alien and will reap the biggest benefits.