Australia

Australia

Analysis - Will wind's smear fightback land any punches?

AUSTRALIA: Vestas is taking a step away from its core business of selling wind turbines to launch a global campaign targeting misinformation spread in the press by anti-wind groups. According to senior vice president Morten Albaek, the company is doing this because the industry is not.

The Act on Facts website forms a central part of the campaign
The Act on Facts website forms a central part of the campaign

The Act on Facts campaign has launched in Australia and is being considered for a number of countries, including the UK and US. It will primarily be digital and run with assistance from environmental groups and wind developers.

Simon Chapman, professor of public health at the University of Sydney, has been compiling a list of the human and animal health problems that wind farm opponents claim are caused by exposure to turbines. They range from asthma and herpes to bowel cancer and brain tumours. At the last count, there were 216 ailments on the list.

"Old Testament accounts of pestilences and plagues seem mild compared to the effects of wind turbines," Chapman noted drily. He pointed out that the incidences of sickness are far more numerous in communities where anti-wind power lobbyists have been active.

Albaek said Vestas was unable to confirm further plans for the campaign, although it will revolve around social networking and digital communications.

He added: "By our own analysis, 1.7GW of projects in Australia have been delayed by the anti-wind movement. So we are doing this campaign with our customers to protect both their business and ours."

Albaek said a lack of action from the wind industry had led Vestas to take a lead on the campaign.

"On a global level, the wind industry has been way too conservative and defensive, and lacking innovation in communications to drive back against the anti-wind movement," he said.

Asked directly whether the wind trade associations had done enough, Albaek said: "No, I don't believe the associations have done a sufficient job, and neither has the industry overall. Therefore we need to take the gloves off and show the benefits [of wind power]. We have science on our side and the majority of the public opinion."

Precedent

There is a precedent for Act on Facts. In 2011, UK trade body RenewableUK launched Action4Renewables (A4R) in an effort to provide a rallying point against anti-wind stories appearing in the press. At the time of its launch, former Friends of the Earth executive director Tony Juniper said renewables faced a number of challenges, including the fact that "in the media, a misleading narrative about the effectiveness and efficiency of renewables has been allowed to take root".

"At the local level, opposition groups are fed by misinformation and scaremongering about renewable energy developments," added Juniper.

A4R had a difficult start after the site was deluged by spam. After two years, it is difficult to determine whether the campaign has slowed the anti-wind campaign. The UK press is filled with stories such as the inefficiency of wind power, health issues or wasteful incentives. Currently Action4Renewables only has 3,000 followers on Twitter.

Speaking about the campaign, RenewableUK director of external affairs Jennifer Webber said specific actions had helped drive awareness.

However, she said the organisation had made "a calculated decision not to get into media spats that give them [anti-wind groups] more attention."

Instead, like Act on Facts, Webber said A4R was about giving members more resources to deal with anti-wind groups. She said she believed RenewableUK would be working with Vestas if the Act on Facts campaign came to the UK.

Asked about whether the industry was doing enough, new European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) chief executive Thomas Becker put it simply. He said: "I fully agree with Morten Albaeck's comments that wind energy associations have not done enough." However, by the same token EWEA is not present in any one country, so there is little it can do.

There is no doubting the good intentions of the Vestas campaign and, according to Albaek, there is more to come. It is difficult to see a EUR 120,000 social media push having much impact when a significant proportion of the world's press appears to be following an anti-wind agenda. But, as Albaek said, someone has to do something.

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