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United Kingdom

Wind improves on acquaintance

There is "overwhelming support" for wind energy from the public says the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) after conducting opinion surveys at open days at seven wind farms in England and Wales.

Visitors to wind farms at Kirkby Moor, Haverigg and Coal Clough in the north west, Blyth Harbour in the north east, Cold Northcott and Delabole in the south west and Bryn Titli in Wales were asked for their opinion before and after their visit. More than 3000 people visited the seven sites on the last Saturday in March. Of the 970 who returned completed questionnaires, 92% said they approved of wind energy after their visit -- a rise from 80% in favour before their visit. Only 4% of respondents came away disapproving of wind energy.

From the results of the survey it would appear that people living closest to wind farms are likely to be more in favour of the technology; an impressive 96% of respondents living up to one mile away approved of wind energy. This supports findings of similar surveys in Denmark and the Netherlands.

When questioned on the environmental impact of the turbines, 7% said the noise was unacceptable, with the majority (75%) accepting it. Interestingly, among respondents who live within one to five miles of the sites, 85% found the noise level acceptable. Visual impact proved to have more effect than noise with 16% believing turbines spoil the scenery compared with 68% who think they do not. This negative impression was more marked among people who live close to the wind farms: 20% living within one mile of the sites said the turbines spoil the scenery.

Public attitude surveys show that the majority like wind energy, says the BWEA's Ian Mays. "What we are even more pleased with is that 96% of people living near wind farms like them." A major reason for the open days was to help the public become more informed about wind energy. Mays believes people are more favourably disposed toward wind energy if they know more about it. "We felt a lot of opposition was because people are not familiar with what a wind farm is," he says. "Looking at the results we find a dramatic change of opinion after people visit a wind farm."

Two separate recent studies confirm that wind farms largely have the support of their local communities. At Kirkby Moor in Cumbria a study of 250 local residents reveals that more than 80% support wind farm development in the area and think that more energy should be generated from renewable sources. The study was commissioned in February by developer National Wind Power six months after start-up of the 12 Vestas turbines which make up its Kirkby Moor wind plant. It again demonstrates that noise is less of an issue than visual impact. Of those questioned, 83% are not at all concerned or not very concerned about the noise made, while of those who can see the wind farm from their houses, 77% are not at all or not very concerned about the impact on the landscape.

At Taff Ely in south Wales wind energy would not appear to be high on the list of concerns among local residents; around half of the 250 surveyed did not have an opinion either way on the question of supporting or opposing it. However, among those who did express an opinion the majority were in favour with 40% of the total questioned supporting wind energy, while 10% oppose it. The study was commissioned by East Midlands Electricity, joint owners -- with Perma Energy -- of the 20 Nordtank turbines at Taff Ely. Yet again visual impact is of more concern than noise. Around two thirds find the appearance of the wind farm is either acceptable or makes the view more interesting. Noise is not seen as a problem, with only 3% saying they could hear the turbines from their homes.

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