General public support for the National Wind Energy Policy

The occurrence of local resistance towards planned wind farms is often referred to as an important obstacle to increased wind power capacity in Sweden and elsewhere. Fears of visual intrusion, noise and land devaluation often explain these negative opinions. However, in spite of the existence of local opposition, the experiences in Sweden (and in many other countries) are that lay people generally express a positive attitude towards wind power (e.g. Krohn and Damborg, 1999; Ek, 2005). For this reason, the occurrence of local resistance towards wind power development is often explained by the so-called not in my backyard (NIMBY) syndrome.8 This explanation has, however, been criticized for being too simplistic (e.g. Wolsink, 2000). Local resistance may, instead, often express suspicion towards the people or the company who want to install the turbines or a rejection of the process underlying the decision to build new plants, rather than a rejection of the turbines themselves. Results from interviews with people living close to wind power installations in the south of Sweden also emphasize the role of collaborative approaches and the benefits of involving the local population in the early stages of the planning of wind turbines (e.g. Hammarlund, 1997; Swedish Energy Agency, 1998).

This illustrates the importance of analysing public attitudes towards wind power in close conjunction with the legal and institutional frameworks that affect the development of wind power. Legal rules for wind power siting (as well as resulting court decisions) generally aim at finding a proper balance between different interests in society. Such rules will therefore largely determine the extent to which any negative opposition will influence wind power siting decisions. Here, we add to the empirical evidence on the public's attitudes towards wind power in Sweden on the basis of a postal survey carried out in 2002 (for details, see Ek, 2002). The main objective of the survey was to analyse the attitudes towards wind energy in general, as well as the perception of the different attributes of wind power.

When asked to state their general attitude towards wind power, only 10 per cent of the respondents expressed a negative stance, while nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) were positive. The likelihood of finding an individual who is positive towards wind power differs with attitudinal and socio-economic characteristics (see Ek, 2002, for details). Support for wind power tends to decrease with age and income, while education level does not have any statistically significant impact. The negative correlation between income and the probability of a positive attitude is somewhat unexpected, and contradicts results from other studies (e.g. Roe et al, 2001; Zarnikau, 2003). One possible explanation might be that individuals with higher income put less significance on the positive employment effects associated with wind power installations. No support is found for the hypothesis that differences in attitudes vary with respect to own experiences of wind power installations. Individuals with wind turbines in sight of their home or summer house did not appear to perceive wind power in a significantly different way compared to individuals without such experience. These results thus lend no support to the NIMBY hypothesis. Nevertheless, it should be clear that this is only a 'weak' test of this hypothesis; the NIMBY phenomenon (to the extent that it exists) is likely to be particularly prevalent prior to the construction of a new wind turbine. Furthermore, wind power is perceived as an environmentally benign electric power source, and people who act to protect the environment (here, those stating that they regularly buy 'green' products) are also more likely to express support for wind power.

We also analysed how respondents view social choice in the energy and environment field, and if these views affect their attitudes towards wind power. Two issues relating to social choice were examined. The first issue dealt with the respondents' willingness to accept trade-offs between environmental quality, on the one hand, and economic benefits, on the other. The results suggest that people who reject the idea of such a trade-off are more likely to express a positive attitude towards wind power than those who wish to strike a balance between economic and environmental goals, and thus are more willing to give up environmental benefits for, say, lower electricity prices. The second social choice issue dealt with the respondents' view on private versus public choices. A distinction here was made between those who expressed support for the idea that the political system should form the basis for decisions on the introduction of 'green' electricity, and those who believed that the market mechanism should determine the extent to which 'green' electricity was introduced in Sweden. The results indicated that the more people stressed the importance of the political system, the more likely they were to express a positive attitude towards wind power. This effect was, however, not statistically significant.

Energy policy documents typically stress the environmental advantages of wind power compared to other power sources, particularly the fact that it does not generate emissions of any harmful substances. Nevertheless, much of the opposition towards wind power has targeted different negative attributes of wind power, such as visual intrusion, noise pollution and impacts on flora and fauna. For this reason, we also comment briefly on the results from a so-called choice experiment whose aim was to elicit the respondents' preferences towards the different attributes of wind power.9 When the attributes included in the experiment were selected, the results from previous research efforts constituted an important input (e.g. Hammarlund, 1997; SOU, 1999; Pedersen and Persson Wayne, 2002). According to this research, the amenity effects are of major importance for the public's perception of wind turbines. The attributes included in the experiment to capture the attitudes towards the visual impacts were the location (onshore near the coast, onshore in the mountains and offshore), and the height and grouping of turbines (large wind farms, smaller groups and separately located turbines). A noise attribute and a cost attribute (changes in the electricity price) were also included in the choice scenario. Respondents were asked to choose between two alternatives of wind power, each associated with different environmental attributes and prices. In order to make the choice task easier, the different levels of the included attributes were briefly described and illustrated in combination with some reference levels.

Our results indicate that Swedish electricity consumers are highly cost conscious. Furthermore, the findings confirm previous research results stating that the visual impacts are of vital importance. The location attribute of wind turbines appears to have the largest impact on the utility of the respondents. Our results suggest that wind power located offshore is considered an environmental improvement, while a location in the mountains is considered an environmental deterioration (compared to a location onshore near the coast). In addition, small wind farms are considered a change for the better, while large farms are considered a change for the worse (compared to separately located wind turbines). Finally, our results imply that reduced noise levels would increase the utility of the average respondent; but this impact was not statistically significant.

In sum, the Swedish public generally expresses a positive attitude towards wind power. This positive attitude tends to be correlated with a willingness to defend - and act on - environmental values. This suggests that there appears to be a relatively strong support for the Swedish energy policy objective to support increased diffusion of wind power. Nevertheless, this support is not always visualized at the implementation stage. The results from our choice experiment indicate a number of strategies that can be used to reduce any negative perceptions of wind power. To minimize environmental disturbances, new schemes should primarily be located offshore, while large wind farms onshore or in the mountains should be avoided. Thus, even though offshore wind power is generally more expensive than land-based turbines, this is, at least partly, offset by the lower risk of public opposition for offshore installations.

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