Why Scotland’s Survey on NIMBY Should Be Considered a False Dawn

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Offshore wind capacity is expected to grow to approximately 80 GW by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) wind energy outlook from 2019. A major contributor within the 80 GW is the U.K. (almost 33%), with projections from the IEA hovering just shy of 27 GW. It is fair to say that actual offshore wind energy capacities would comfortably exceed these estimates, as we have seen increased activity in auctioning offshore wind capacity. The ScotWind auction saw bids for almost 25 GW of offshore capacity in January 2022; moreover, the U.S. broke records, as investments beyond USD 3 billion poured in this year for offshore wind installations.

It is apparent from recent developments in the space that governments and the entire energy industry are banking on offshore wind energy, including concepts like floating wind that can harness the power of far offshore winds. However, not everyone is on board with the idea of wind energy, and an intangible social factor is becoming a familiar foe. This social mindset, labeled not in my backyard or “NIMBY,” is related to the opposition from people living close to wind turbines who raise concerns over the potential health hazards or their visual impact (Donald Trump’s claims over the problems caused by wind turbines naturally come to mind). Even though NIMBY does not have significant weight among the hurdles wind farm developers face (e.g., technical challenges faced in anchoring and designing floating wind turbines; assembly and maintenance of offshore wind farms on-site), it is a factor in countries like the U.S. and Denmark, which have delayed wind energy deployment. It remains a major barrier in the U.S., as projects like the Cape Cod wind farm fell prey to this very NIMBY mindset.

To understand how locals view the offshore wind industry, the Scottish government conducted a survey from February 11–16, 2021, with results published on June 29, 2022. The government of Scotland claims this study to be the “first of its kind” as none other had considered people with experience living close to offshore wind farms before. In this insight, we highlight some of the key findings and explain what they mean for clients interested in deploying or operating offshore wind farms in the future.

Key Metrics

The survey classified its sample into three buckets: a) citizens who live in Scotland (defined as national respondents), b) citizens who live along the coastline (defined as coastal respondents), and c) a subset of coastal respondents who already live or have lived in the vicinity of an offshore wind farm or live in an area where offshore wind farm construction is ongoing (defined as lived experience respondents). The survey collected data from 2,065 people aged over 16 years in Scotland. According to the survey:

  • “Four in five (80%) national respondents and 83% of coastal respondents either strongly approve or tend to approve of offshore wind farms.”
  • “Perceived attitudes to offshore wind farms have not changed significantly over time; 85% of coastal respondents reported in the survey that they have always had the same opinion of offshore wind farms, while the same is true for 80% of national respondents.”
  • “A quarter (25%) of lived experience respondents think that offshore windfarms have had a positive impact on their quality of life, while 4% think the opposite — that they have a had a negative impact.”
  • “However, a significant minority of lived experience respondents have some negative attitudes towards offshore windfarms even if their attitudes are broadly positive overall; this includes around a third (34%) who think that offshore wind farms detract from the traditional image of the coast.”
  • “Those in the ABC1 social grades are more likely to approve of offshore wind farms than those in the C2DE grades — 83% versus 76%.” (This lettering scheme is used to define social grades in the U.K. based on occupation, with A being the highest and E being the lowest.)
  • “Coastal respondents most likely to disapprove of offshore wind farm developments were those aged 65+ (12% compared to 2% of those under 35 years old).”

Lux Take

Even though the government of Scotland claims that most Scottish people approve of offshore wind energy, the sample size used in this study is less than 0.04% of the country’s total population. This survey, therefore, does not paint a complete picture of genuine public opinion. However, the survey’s results that older people or people from lower economic classes are more likely to reject the idea of offshore wind makes sense, primarily because of a lack of knowledge and information among most people in these categories. Therefore, the survey would have been much better if it had included people’s thought processes behind the approval or disapproval of offshore wind energy, as these would better indicate the reasons behind their concerns.

The main takeaway for clients interested in offshore wind energy is that conversation is the only solution to myth-busting rumors about wind turbines and their socio-environmental impact (e.g., similar to what happened in Lexington, Massachusetts, regarding solar noise barriers). Conversion will be even more impactful in developing countries where a greater fraction of people belong to lower economic classes. For example, in a country like India with no offshore wind capacity to date, social factors and/or political beliefs could further delay its path to decarbonization. This barrier can be overcome with constant dialogue with local communities, fisheries, and enterprises in the marine industry concerned about how offshore wind energy would affect their livelihood.

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