Australians Want Wind, but Politics and Media Get in the Way: Two New Reports

Two new reports about the wind industry in Australia provide good news about the facts but bad news about the politics.

The first report is from CSIRO, Australia’s peak scientific research organisation, on community acceptance of rural wind farms.

Dr. Nina Hall from the CSIRO Science into Society Group was lead author. Hall and her colleagues used several research tools to create a ‘snapshot of community acceptance levels’ (p.8).

  • The qualitative interviews with stakeholders revealed that there is substantial support for rural wind farms.

  • An investigation into the community politics revealed that most of the opposition to wind farms is activist-generated by the global anti-wind group, the Landscape Guardians.

  • Media coverage was found to over-amplify criticism of wind, out of step with the views of the rural community

The CSIRO report was covered well in at least nine stories in the Australian media overnight, in particular this excellent radio story by Libby Price on the ABC’s Country Hour.

There was 1 biased press article that took a conspiracy theory approach, attacking the science behind the report and the CSIRO itself, in essence proving the report’s conclusions about journalism.

The second report is from Pacific Hydro, a leading international wind developer based in Australia and owned 100% by Australians. While the CSIRO study was qualitative with regard to community attitudes, the Pacific Hydro report was quantitative and thus complements it well.

The report measured public attitudes in wind regions around Australia. The aim was to get a statistically valid sample of what local communities think about wind farms in their region, both operating and planned.

This study found that 83% of people supported wind, with only 14% opposed. Interestingly, it found the opposite for coal, which is opposed by 65% of people. Gas was intermediate between the two.

My analysis of the situation is only strengthened by these two studies; Australians love renewables and the wind industry is only one effective national campaign away from guaranteeing itself a very successful future.

Australia’s Liberal and National parties are increasingly being held captive to the crazy anti-scientific ideas of the US Tea Party. This means climate denialism and increasingly, a new form of anti-science that I call ‘renewables skepticism’. This entails conspiracy theories about wind (and solar energy). The upshot is that the state governments of Victoria and NSW have passed silly anti-wind laws that threaten to derail the industry.

There is no reason that the Liberal Party could not be convinced to abandon its anti-scientific hostility to wind if the right work is done on behalf of the industry.

Likewise, the Australian media is only doing such mediocre reporting — on average — because a handfull of partisan outlets are running an anti-renewables agenda, that the rest of the media do nothing to counter because there isn’t a pro-renewables industry campaign.

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Dan Cass is strategist at The Australia Institute and an honorary associate at Sydney Business School. He has advised international and Australian energy companies, and is now on the advisory board of Solar Head of State and was a director of Hepburn Wind. @DanJCass

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