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The Impact Of Misinformation On Wind Energy Development

As green energy projects are being rolled out worldwide, and political policies are catching up to climate targets, one thing that's lagging behind is community support. Increasing renewable energy capacity to the level that's needed to leave fossil fuels behind requires the backing of the public and a movement away from the not in my backyard point of view. In addition to the unwillingness to embrace renewables when it's close to home, a flurry of misinformation has hindered many projects in recent years, demonstrating the need to re-educate and encourage greater support for green in practice as well as theory. 

In New South Wales, Australia, there are plans to cluster major wind and solar projects across five Renewable Energy Zones (Rez), established by the NSW government, to enhance storage and transmission potential. The town of Welcha sits in the New England Rez, which has major wind potential. But poor public opinion continues to stand in the way of the development of major new renewables projects in the region, as the government and private firms push to boost the region's clean energy capacity to support a green transition. 

Danish renewable energy major Vestas is the biggest stakeholder in the planned Winterbourne windfarm, which was initially announced in 2004 with construction expected to finally begin in 2024. It is expected to have a capacity of 700 MW when complete, with an investment of over $1 billion. To achieve this level of wind power, the farm will have up to 119 turbines with a maximum height of 230 metres.  Related: German Grid Operators Unveil €128 Billion Plan For Green Energy Shift

Despite the project offering huge potential for a movement away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives in the region, many locals are not so keen on the development. Some residents worry about the appearance of the turbines, while others are concerned about their impact on tourism and the threat to biodiversity in the area. To counter these concerns, project developers are providing a $1 million community development fund for the town's 3,000 residents. A further $750,000 will be made available annually once the project is up and running, as well as an additional $1,000 for every megawatt generated over 600 MW. Vestas also anticipates the creation of up to 400 jobs in the building phase and 16 long-term maintenance jobs, bringing vital employment opportunities to the region. 

But Welcha isn't the only place where residents are concerned about new wind projects. This is a sentiment that's being felt down the whole of the Australian east coast, following the launch of several green energy projects. And outside of Australia, it's a concern that has been heard across Europe and North America for decades. The not in my backyard (nimby) point of view has been repeated time and time again, first with the explosion of fossil fuel projects and now in the development of renewable energy capacity across the rural landscape. 

When it comes to wind turbines, the level of misinformation that has spread in recent years is significant. And while some of the tales may have been true in the technology's nascent phase, recent innovations have improved the turbines immensely, leaving less cause for concern. Some of the worries, that have been disseminated via social media, include the noise pollution caused by the turbines, as well as completely false discourses such as the negative health effects of low-frequency infrasound, as well as suggestions that wind energy does not reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and photos of wind turbines breaking, burning, and falling. This has led residents near proposed wind farms worldwide to lobby against the developments. As state governments and local councils contend with the concerns of the local communities, trying to dispel the misinformation, many wind projects are being delayed or cancelled altogether. 

In the Netherlands, proposed wind farms in an estimated one-fifth of Dutch municipalities have been negatively affected due to a lack of local support, with dozens being cancelled or delayed. Meanwhile, the percentage of Swedes in favour of greater investment in wind energy fell from 74 percent in 2009 to 65 percent in 2019. And in Germany, several wind project operators are battling against protestors in court for their developments to go ahead. 

To change the negative opinion of wind farms, many local councils and project developers are now engaging in discussions with communities and calling for active citizen participation. This can help to address some of the concerns, dispel misinformation, and communicate the benefits of the project. In addition, greater information from the government about how new renewable projects could help to lower energy prices and boost energy security could bolster public approval. But the failure to rapidly address public concerns and offer comprehensive education on wind energy and other renewables projects could lead to the further spread of misinformation and the persistence of the nimby viewpoint.

By Felicity Bradstock for

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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK. More