Sarah Boyack, the Scottish Executive's environment minister, revealed the survey's results in late August at the opening of Dun Law wind farm in the Borders. She highlighted the difference between people's initial perceptions of proposed wind projects and the reality gathered from experience. "The most illuminating finding was that the closer people live to a wind farm, the more positive their attitude is," she said. "The message that people's worries over the development of wind farms are often unfounded is also illustrated by the fact that 12% of respondents said they thought they would experience problems with noise, but only 1% reported experiencing problems."
The survey, "Public Attitudes Towards Wind Farms in Scotland," was carried out by System Three Social Research. It conducted 430 telephone interviews within a 20 kilometre radius of the wind farms, though distribution was skewed so that half of all respondents lived within five kilometres. Overall, 67% find something they like about the wind farm, rising to 73% among those living closest. Moreover, 74% say there is nothing they dislike about a wind farm in their area, while the figure for those nearest is 80%. Prior to the development, 40% had anticipated problems; this now just 9%.
In a veiled reprimand to the wind industry, the survey reveals low levels of awareness of community consultation before the start of development by either the project developer or local authority. Most people gained their information of the wind farm from local newspapers (42%), with only 7% gaining information from the developer or local authority.
The survey questions attitudes towards more turbines being added to the existing wind farm. The threat of further expansion has often been used as an argument by anti-wind campaigners for resisting any wind farms in their area. But only 14% of respondents say they would be concerned by a project's expansion, although almost twice as many would be concerned if another wind farm was proposed for the local area. Interestingly, when asked where they would prefer to see wind farm developments, 48% say not in inhabited places and 36% that they should be high on hills.
Boyack says the Scottish Executive is committed to increasing generation of electricity from renewables. "But we recognise that many people have concerns over the development of such projects. It is essential that we take great care to inform and consult local residents to ensure that we take into account their views while developing these schemes."