14 Dec 2011, 12:32
I always thought it was down to the fact I don't get out much.
I have very rarely met anyone opposed to wind farms and other forms of renewable energy. In fact, in the past four years, outside of briefings with anti wind farm groups, I can recall just two conversations where people expressed opposition to wind turbines. One with a nuclear scientist who maintained harvesting wind could never compete with next generation nuclear technologies as a means of producing low carbon energy, and another with someone who (entirely understandably) did not want to see wind turbines in the Lake District National Park.
The vast majority of people I have spoken to about wind farms and renewable energy (if you introduce yourself as an environmental journalist, it comes up a lot) will quickly admit that "actually, I really rather like wind turbines". Having been bombarded with negative media stories characterising wind turbines as noisy eyesores, people tend to think it is a somehow controversial position to be in favour of wind turbines, admitting in a vaguely confessional tone that they think they are "rather majestic" or "really quite nice to look at".
The consensus amongst my friends and acquaintances was clear, but I always assumed the sample was skewed. That the environmentally minded, generally urban circles I move in would naturally support renewable energy, while countless millions across the country remained fiercely opposed to wind farms and costly renewable energy technologies.
I knew the many myths, revived again this week by the Adam Smith Institute, that suggest renewable energy is technically unviable and horrendously expensive were largely baseless. Not least because I have seen how Germany, Spain and Texas integrate large amounts of renewables into their grid, analysed the data showing how the cost of wind and solar power is falling fast, and spoken at length with the National Grid about the entirely surmountable technical and economic challenges they will face in shifting towards renewable power.
But I always assumed that there was a large rump of public opinion that was fiercely opposed to renewable energy technologies and the subsidies necessary to roll them out - after all, that is precisely what the media suggests.
How wrong I was.
The survey of nearly 1,700 people was carried out towards the end of November, following months during which the right wing press has waged an increasingly virulent campaign against climate change, wind farms, renewable energy, and the green levies that pay for it. And yet a clear and significant majority remains firmly in favour of renewable energy subsidies, wind farms, and solar installations.
The figures deserve repeating. Nearly three quarters want to see more solar power and 56 per cent want more wind farms, compared to only 35 per cent who want more nuclear and 16 per cent who want more coal power.
More significant still, a whopping 60 per cent think it is right for the government to subsidise wind farms to encourage investment in new capacity, compared to just 26 per cent who oppose such policies and 15 per cent who don't know.
Similarly, 47 per cent think wind farms are a realistic way of combating climate change, compared to 36 per cent who don't, with the remainder unsure. Meanwhile, over two thirds think solar power can realistically combat climate change.
The results get even more interesting when you drill down by voting intention, age, and region.
Support for more solar power is solid across all demographics, while support for more wind farms varies, with older people and Conservative voters more likely to be opposed - although even here a strong minority of 43 per cent of people who intend to vote Tory are in favour of wind power (interestingly Conservative voters are also most likely to oppose coal and oil-fired power plants and show the greatest support for nuclear with 48 per cent wanting more nuclear power plants).
Moreover, on the crucial question of whether subsidies to support renewable power are right or wrong a clear majority think they are right across all demographics and age groups, bar the over 60s where only 48 per cent think they are right (although even here only 42 per cent think they are definitely wrong with the remaining 10 per cent undecided).
With the notable exception of the solar feed-in tariff cuts, which judging by the results many people would like to see rethought, the results appear to offer a ringing endorsement of the government's renewable energy policies.
Inevitably, there are caveats. It is interesting that support for solar energy exceeds support for more intrusive wind farms and as we've seen time and again opposition to renewable energy developments can harden when they move from being hypothetical to become a physical entity in your neighbourhood.
The results also suggest that the right wing press does to an extent know its readers and there is a Conservative voter bias against renewable energy, although this is far less pronounced than many commentators would have you believe and as a rule more Conservative voters are in favour of renewables than are opposed.
Whichever way you cut it, you can not get away from the core conclusion from this poll: People love solar power, they like wind farms, and they are in favour of renewable energy subsidies.
It is too much to ask that the vociferous minority opposing renewable energy will reflect on these results and call off their media attack dogs. But for the government's green agenda and the UK's low carbon economy they are the best kind of early Christmas present.
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Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray