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Ignore concerns over green energy at your peril, report warns ministers

30 Jul 2009

The public is highly supportive of greener forms of energy, but has ‘legitimate’ concerns which Government and industry need to take more seriously if Government targets are to be met – according to a new study.

"The Government should put more emphasis on protecting the high levels of current public support for renewable energy, particularly for new offshore technologies and it is critical that this doesn't become eroded," said lead researcher Dr Patrick-Devine Wright from The University of Manchester.

"It is clear that the Government and Industry can do far more to keep the public onside and respond to the genuine reservations and concerns that some people have.

“They should avoid the politically expedient term of Nimby," he added.

Professor Gordon Walker of Lancaster University said: "Just calling protestors 'Nimbies' and suggesting, as Ed Miliband recently did, that it should be socially unacceptable to oppose wind turbines, is just counterproductive.

"People have a democratic right to express their views, to scrutinise development proposals and to argue their case."

The researchers from six different Universities studied a range of different renewable energy projects - onshore and offshore wind, new tidal and wave technologies and biomass projects - across the UK.

Results of their survey work with local people showed little evidence of Nimbyism - only two per cent of the respondents to a survey of over 3,000 people fitted the stereotype of being strongly in favour of renewable energy in general, yet strongly against a local proposal.

The research also found no evidence to suggest that opponents of green energy were recent incomers to an area, older or living closest to the site.

Dr. Devine-Wright said: "Our results show that people generally support renewable energy, but that this support can be fragile, particularly for biomass and on-shore wind energy.

“Offshore marine energy projects are so far being largely welcomed by nearby coastal communities, but large offshore wind farms can still sometimes be controversial.

"We have identified what the key issues are that shape public concerns about new proposals. Developers and government should be acting to address these key issues, not labelling protestors as Nimbies.

"They need to pay more attention to how the benefits or drawbacks of a proposal are perceived by local people.

“By only focusing upon benefits at the global or national scale, they overlook crucial local aspects that shape public support.

“Some developers are taking steps to bring more benefits to local people and this should become more widespread.

"They also need to recognise the importance of reputation - certain technologies like wind turbines are almost expected to be controversial which colours local perceptions of specific projects. It can lead people to oppose the technology in any location, not just 'in their back yard.”

He added: "Developers must do more to ensure local residents feel they are being listened to. Providing information is simply not enough. This will then help to address a lack of trust, which can undermine their engagement with local residents.

"And most importantly, Government needs to do much more to make sure that planning decision processes are open, fully informed and fair.

"At the moment local people often feel disenfranchised as their concerns are not properly listened to or decisions end up being taken in a 'black hole' in London.

"Under such conditions local resistance can easily escalate."

Notes for editors

Summary reports of findings can be found on the project website: http://www.sed.manchester.ac.uk/research/beyond_nimbyism/deliverables/reports.htm

The Government recently announced a new 'low carbon' strategy which included significant growth in renewable energy generation.

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The University of Manchester
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michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk