Wind power faces a formidable opponent

Wind power is being subject to an effective scare campaign similar to that executed against the carbon tax. Even though the people involved represent a small minority they are influential.

Vestas, the largest global manufacturer of wind turbines has chosen Australia to launch a global campaign against wind power misinformation entitled Act on Facts.  The campaign involving the website http://www.actonfacts.org appears to stem from a frustration that unfounded concerns or half truths about wind farms are managing to spread and become accepted by an important segment of the community.  

According to Vestas’ public affairs director in Australia, Ken McAlpine, a number of groups opposed to wind farms,

“don't observe rules of civilised debate, they are not particularly interested in facts and they have been doing it for years ... They have been able to achieve change at a state policy level and there is a risk they will be able to do it at federal level as well"

McAlpine said Vestas felt the need to seize the initiative stating,

"Wind energy is the only thing we do and we see this as such a threat to our business that we have to step up and change the game ... we are taking some risks and working with people we have never worked with before but we have to do something different because what we have been doing so far hasn't worked."

It seems extraordinary that Vestas feels the need to launch such a campaign in Australia – one of the smaller markets for wind turbines globally and one where support for wind farms is actually quite high. Most recently in a survey held over June 13-16 by Essential Research found 76% of the people surveyed supported the building of wind farms in Australia. Only 11% opposed them with rest responding don’t know. This is similar to other surveys that examine Australia’s preferences surrounding energy sources, such as the long-running survey conducted by the Climate Institute.

However in spite of this broad-based support, they have some formidable opponents. 

They are formidable because a number of them carry significant influence amongst the conservative Coalition. In addition when you represent change to the established status quo, it really only takes a small number of people who are loud, persistent and determined to make life extremely difficult. 

Some of the opponents have an understandable and entirely legitimate concern that wind farms proposed nearby to where they live will interfere with their view, increase noise and may possibly cause other problems.  These people don’t necessary hate wind farms, they just aren’t convinced that wind farms are important enough that their amenity should be compromised.  Or at the very least they believe they should be compensated for any loss of amenity.

However such people can be recruited or influenced by others whose opposition to wind farms is far broader and deeper. This is where things get very difficult and almost beyond any form of civilised discussion.

For some it’s about political ideology – they don’t like the idea of government intervention and feel the problem of climate change isn’t justification for replacing fossil fuels with a more expensive, and less controllable source of energy.  At its most rational some of them do accept climate change as a legitimate concern, but think subsidising renewable energy is the wrong way to address the problem. A number of these people can also be subject to civilised rational discussion.  But many are utterly uninterested in a discussion about pro’s and con’s.  Instead they are determined to stop wind farms and are prepared to use any means necessary.

Then there are those whose opposition almost borders on religious fervour and anger.  These people see themselves as victims of a conspiracy of elite interests which includes wind farms but can extend to the carbon tax, banks, even fluoridation of water. Such people can be recruited to provide grass-roots for the ideological warriors.

The anti wind farm rally being held in Canberra today is following a very similar campaign to that involved in opposing the carbon tax. Again you have shock jock, Alan Jones front and centre whipping up the frenzy.  Trying to combat such a scare campaign is incredibly difficult, as the Gillard Government can attest.

But what should be very concerning to the wind industry is that Nick Xenophon was willing to get involved. Xenophon is not normally aligned with the loony right and is often quite clever about the battles he chooses to take on. Xenophon is reasonably likely to hold the balance of power in the next Senate and could be pivotal in any decisions on the Renewable Energy Target.  

Xenophon’s attitudes represent the ultimate test for the wind industry in its efforts to combat misinformation surrounding wind power.