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Wind favoured over shale gas in UK public poll

Wind favoured over shale gas in UK public poll

23rd October 2012
More than two-thirds of people would rather have a wind turbine than a shale gas well near their home, according to a new opinion poll published on Tuesday.
Asked to choose between having the two energy sources within two miles of their home, 67 per cent of respondents favoured a turbine, compared to just 11 per cent who would support the gas development.

The findings of the UK-wide ICM survey shows that only nuclear power and coal are less popular than shale gas developments.

The ICM poll, together with a second new poll from YouGov, show public opinion is against George Osborne's push for a new "dash for gas" as the central plank of the Government's energy policy.

The polls come at a critical time for the Government's Energy Bill, which aims to deliver the £200 billion required to replace and develop the nation's ageing energy infrastructure, due to be published on November 5. The investment required will be added to household energy bills that are already rising and proving a political headache for David Cameron.

"This [ICM] poll puts to the sword the myth that the public are set against onshore wind and wish to rush into a second dash for gas," said Paul Monaghan, head of social goals at the Co-operative, which commissioned the ICM poll for the launch of the Co-op's Manifesto for a community energy revolution which it is backing with £100 million of investment.

The poll showed 49 per cent of people would support a wind turbine being erected within two miles of their home, with 22 per cent against. But if the project were community-owned, support rose to 68 per cent and opposition plummeted to seven per cent. In Germany, where 65 per cent of its huge renewable energy capacity is community-owned, opposition is much rarer than in UK where community ownership is less than 10 per cent.

Onshore wind farms have become an increasingly divisive issue, with 100 backbench Conservative MPs demanding subsidy cuts from Cameron earlier this year. Negotiations over the Energy Bill have been severely hampered by a feud between Osborne and the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, Ed Davey.

But new Energy Minister and Tory MP, John Hayes, told the Guardian the onshore wind controversy has cast a shadow over the wider energy debate and that it could be resolved by the current consultation over community benefits from renewable energy projects, which could see local people getting lower bills, for example.

"Appropriately sited onshore wind has a role to play, but if we're to make this work in a way that garners popular support, we've got to see a big improvement in how developers engage with local communities, new ways of ensuring a sense of local ownership and more obvious local economic benefits," said Hayes, when launching the consultation.

"The new research demonstrates we need to see a stronger deployment of community-owned projects, especially in those parts of the country where a small, but highly vocal, minority are blocking progress," said Monaghan. "The UK has made massive strides in recent years with its renewables generation capacity, and it's essential this continue."

In his battle with Davey, Osborne won a commitment to a new gas strategy, also due to be published on November 5. But the Chancellor's enthusiasm for gas is not shared by the public, according to the poll.

Natural gas was the most preferred energy source of just seven per cent of people polled by ICM, behind solar, hydro and offshore wind power, although ahead of onshore wind farms.

The YouGov poll showed that 55 per cent of people want more wind farms, compared to just 17 per cent who want more gas power stations. It also showed that less than one in three people thinks the Government should give the go-ahead to fracking.
RenewableUK's deputy chief exective, Maf Smith, said: "Support for renewable nergy is consistently strong, in this and other independent polls. One stark message from this survey is the public's evident disenchantment with fossil fuels, including the unpopularity of fracking."

Osborne announced recently "generous" tax breaks for fracking and the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, pledged to make licensing as simple as possible by setting up a "one-stop shop".

Independent experts argue that shale gas may make a small contribution to UK energy supply in a decade or so, but say it will not have the dramatic impact it has in the US.
Former energy minister Charles Hendry, sacked in September's reshuffle, said on Sunday: "Our future can't depend on gas alone … betting the farm on shale brings serious risks of future price rises."

The Energy Bill will also attempt to make building new nuclear power stations sufficiently attractive to investors, while attempting to keep the Coalition's pledge not to subsidise the reactors. But nuclear power remains deeply unpopular with the public, with the poll showing it is by far the least preferred energy source.

The poll showed significant differences between younger and older people, with 19 per cent of those over 65 choosing nuclear power as their most preferred energy source compared to six per cent of those aged 18 to 34. The over 65s showed far less support for local wind turbines (38 per cent) versus those in the 18-34 age group (64 per cent) and more enthusiasm for local shale gas rather than local wind (19 per cent of over 65s, 10 per cent of 18-34s).

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