Every few months the UK government interviews 2000 people about their views on energy. These surveys show the gradually rising popularity of renewables, including onshore wind. I looked at the underlying data in the latest survey and found that just 1 person between 16 and 44 from the entire interview panel was ‘strongly opposed’ to wind. (Want to know more? She lives in a rural area, earns a high income and supports other renewables. She doesn't like fracking). By contrast, 235 respondents in this group ‘strongly supported’ the technology.
Across all age ranges, wind seems to be rising in popularity. The only group with more than a few opponents are those over 65. And yet the reduction in those opposing onshore wind has been fastest in this age range.
Media coverage shouldn’t start from the assumption that people don’t like turbines. Wind power is popular. Vastly more popular than fracking.
The need for an end to the block on cheap wind
Onshore wind turbines sited in windy coastal locations are the cheapest source of electricity for the UK. Even with the current restrictions on turbine size, developers would probably be able to offer electricity from large new farms at below £50 per megawatt hour. This is less than half the cost of the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. It will also beat a new gas power plant. More wind means lower electricity bills for everybody.
Research unit ECIU recently wrote that ‘The effective ban on the cheapest form of new power generation looks increasingly perverse. For a Government committed to making energy cheaper, this risks not only locking people into higher bills, but also runs contrary to its aim of having the lowest energy costs in Europe’.
Government blocked large scale onshore wind two years ago. It now acknowledges that this policy may need to change in light of the continuing reduction in the costs of getting electricity from turbines. Energy minister Richard Harrington said at this year’s Conservative Party conference that 'Provided that it goes through a reasonable local planning system, I see no reason why it should not be on the same level playing field as everything else’.
The easy assumption that onshore wind is unacceptable to voters is increasingly false. The latest edition of the regular government survey on attitudes to wind power and other renewables was issued last week. It showed that onshore wind was supported by 74% of the population and opposed by only 8%. That is a nearly ten to one ratio. (The remainder of the respondents were either indifferent or ‘don’t know’).
Among those against wind, those who are ‘strongly opposed’ to this form of renewable energy represent less than 2% of the UK population. Yet these people seem to be responsible for holding up the development of potential of wind to deliver cheap and low carbon energy.
The net balance of 66% supporting onshore wind is a new record in the five year history of the survey. The average next balance until survey 15 in 2014 was less than 55%. But support has increased in each of the last four waves since then.
Two important other conclusions come out of the survey.
1) Age is by far the most important predictor of attitude towards wind. Young people are almost universally in favour. However, all age groups have increased approval of onshore turbines in the last few years.
2) The people in rural areas – despite repeated assertions to the contrary – are typically more in favour of wind than urban dwellers. A much larger fraction are strongly supportive. However, more rural interviewees were also ‘strongly opposed’ although the numbers are tiny.
The impact of age
Only 3% of all those interviewed and aged between 16 and 44 were opposed to onshore wind power. (This includes both people who ‘strongly opposed’ wind and those who simply ‘opposed’). Put another way, 28 people out of the 871 interviewed in that age range didn’t like turbines.
By contrast, 132 people out of 596 respondents who were over 65 disapproved of wind. This was 22% of those interviewed. But even in this age range, only 4% ‘strongly opposed’ onshore turbines.
Between survey 15 (in late 2014) and the latest round of interviews, every age group showed an increase in the percentage supporting onshore wind. (In the case of 35-44 year olds, the increase was only half of one percent).
Even among the 65+, the percentage approving of turbines rose from 53% to almost 65%. The number disapproving fell from 22% to 16%. This reduction was the largest of any group in absolute percentage terms. The numbers opposing wind amongst all age groups 16-44 is now almost insignificant.
Rural versus urban
Perhaps the rise in support for onshore wind is confined to those who live in large towns and cities? These people will generally not even be able to see a new generation of onshore wind turbines from their windows.
The reality is that rural dwellers as a whole are more likely to approve of onshore wind than people in towns. About one quarter of the UK population is defined as living in rural areas. These people include 32% who strongly support wind, compared to 21% for the population as a whole.
On the other hand, more rural people than urban dwellers ‘strongly oppose’ wind but this is not enough to overturn the general conclusion that living in the country makes a person more likely to support the technology.
What does this all mean? The large majority of British people support onshore wind and this support is increasing among all age groups. Tiny numbers strongly oppose turbines and these people are almost exclusively old. It’s time to start developing Britain’s extensive and inexpensive resources of wind again. Despite what you might read in the newspapers, there really isn’t much opposition.
DISCLOSURE: I own a stake in the makers of a new vertical axis wind turbine, shares in two co-operatively-owned farms and debentures in a privately-held turbine.
 The agreed price for Hinkley was lower but price inflation since the date of agreement has taken the cost of new nuclear electricity to well above £100 a megawatt hour.
 The net balance is the percentage of those in the survey supporting onshore wind (‘support’ or ‘strongly support’) less the percentage that oppose (‘oppose’ or ‘strongly oppose’).
 Questions about the support for renewables technologies have not been included in all of the most recent waves of the survey.