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Question of the Week: can you promote wind to the people?

Following from Global Wind Day, organised by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), Windpower Monthly asks if there is more the industry could be doing to promote the sector to the wider public.

We spoke to Greenpeace chief scientist Dr Doug Parr, Vestas chief marketing officer Morten Albaek and Richard Bowen, consultant at Pendragon PR. 

Question: What should the wind industry be doing to counter the anti-wind lobby?

Morten Albaek, chief marketing officer, Vestas

Let's be clear about the challenge: In key markets, the wind industry is being attacked by media-savvy and politically influential adversaries who often display a brazen disregard for factual information. Increasingly well-organized anti-wind activists pursue a strategy that seems designed to inflame the debate and distort the public perception of wind power.

And let's also be clear in looking at ourselves as an industry. To the extent we're losing the battle, we have only ourselves to blame. Neither we as an industry nor the quiet majority that supports wind energy have done a good enough job making our case.

In June 2013, Vestas launched Act on Facts (www.ActOnFacts.org) to counter the factually flawed arguments that are too often delaying and even derailing wind energy projects. The idea is to make fact-based information more accessible and easier to use to better inform the debate – but also to go further, to engage citizens in pro-wind initiatives that many developers and wind associations are pursuing in countries like Australia, Sweden, the UK, Ireland, Spain, and Poland where Act on Facts has been launched, and possibly others in the future.

In short, our aspiration is to turn the quiet majority of people who support wind energy into a vocal force to encourage politicians and local communities to see the benefits of wind power and reject the claims of the noisy minority who oppose it.

The industry needs to step up its game and engage both critics and supporters in creative, innovative ways.

Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist, Greenpeace

Active anti-wind campaigners or activists, from Lord Lawson down, are unlikely to change their minds – when you deal with them, keep the undecided in mind, they're the people you should be talking to. If there's no one undecided amongst those who see the debate, you're probably just wasting your time.

How to bring the undecided on board? Bring them into the process. The most important thing is not that they know everything, but that they know nothing is being hidden from them. If they feel a big corporation is about to alter the landscape where they live, which may be very dear to them, it's natural to feel slightly suspicious. It's this generalised anxiety, rather than any specific myth about infra sound or bird strikes, which needs to be overcome.

The most effective way to do this is through community energy projects, where participation rather than persuasion dominates. It may be a daunting to try to adopt a new business model whilst surfing the wave of relentless u-turns and policy reversals from this government, but you have the chance of going into partnership with the public. UK regulator Ofgem's referral of the energy market to the competition commission shouldn't end with a big seven or a big eight, but a market where providers are no longer seen as distant and dishonest, but as partners in building and protecting our communities. Wind power would be the winner in a market like that.

Richard Bowen, consultant, Pendragon PR consultants

The decision by UK local government minister Eric Pickles to take a direct interest in onshore wind development proposals has had serious repercussions on the industry. Of the 12 proposals that Mr Pickles has ruled on in the past year, 10 have been refused planning permission - four of those against the recommendations of planning inspectors to approve the scheme. More than 25 additional proposals remain in the Secretary of State's in-tray awaiting his attention.

In such a hostile political atmosphere, the most effective way to gain planning approval is to demonstrate that a good body of local support for a wind energy proposal exists. Developers must understand that without a visible counter balance to local objectors, more good schemes will be halted by Mr Pickles and local councillors will feel encouraged to vote down new proposals put before them.

Community consultation now has to go the extra mile and be truly meaningful. Developers have to listen to wider local concerns and come up with imaginative proposals that offer real benefits to local communities. It might take the form of partial community ownership, contributions to local good causes, finance to improve the local road network, subsidise a bus service or upgrade local facilities. Vague commitments to provide community benefits based on installed turbine capacities no longer cut the mustard when looking for support from otherwise disinterested or sceptical locals.

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