In the numbers game, wind energy is continuing to ride high, despite what certain politicians have been saying in the recent local election campaign. At the end of April, the Department of Energy and Climate Change released the latest wave of its polling on public attitudes towards renewable energy. Yet again, the results showed strong support for the development of renewables in general and wind in particular, both onshore and offshore. DECC's Public Attitudes Tracker chimes with a full range of opinion polls published over the last 12 months which show that the public appetite for wind remains undiminished.
On 1 May, one of the UK's leading independent polling organisations, ComRes, published a fresh series of polls, commissioned by RenewableUK, which examined for the first time how voters feel towards local and national candidates who support building wind farms. The results show that, at every level, candidates who support wind energy are more likely to gain votes than the anti-wind sirens.
Overall, 34% of voters in local elections said they would be more likely to back a candidate who publicly supports developing wind farms, whereas only 24% said they would be less likely to do so. 36% said it made no difference either way (and 7% didn't know). This "made no difference" vote is interesting in itself, as it shows that 70% of people are either put off by anti-wind political rhetoric, or simply don't respond to it, so when some Tories and UK Independence Party candidates tried to suggest they were in touch with public opinion by opposing wind, they were misinformed. Perhaps they should get out more and talk to people on their doorsteps, rather than making assumptions about what voters like or dislike.
It's interesting to examine the numbers in detail. As one might expect, support among Liberal Democrat and Labour voters remains high - but take a look at the Tory and UKIP votes and you may be surprised. In local elections, more Conservative voters (33%) said they'd be more likely to support a pro-wind candidate than those who said they'd be less likely to do so (31%). Just over a third (34%) said it would make no difference. Nearly a quarter of UKIP voters (23%) say they would actually be more likely to support a candidate who advocates building wind farms - and a further 29% of UKIP supporters said it would make no difference (3% didn't know). The UKIP leader Nigel Farage has constantly cited building wind farms as a key issue which he opposes - so it seems that he is out of touch not only with the British public, but also with a majority of his own supporters.
It's also intriguing to see how attitudes to wind energy affect levels of support in a General Election. Women voters are particularly positive towards wind, with nearly one in three saying they'd be less likely to vote for an anti-wind candidate and a quarter of all Conservative voters said they wouldn't support a candidate who opposed wind energy. The numbers are even higher among UKIP voters, with 29% saying they would be less likely to back a national party opposing wind. Perhaps we will see a breakaway faction of "UKIP For Wind Energy" campaigners - at least that would better reflect the views of some of that party's supporters.
Another key finding of the poll is that, contrary to what some parts of the media might have you believe, the majority of people aren't fuming with anger over the prospect of more wind farms being built. Other issues such as building affordable housing, the level of council tax they have to pay, immigration and reforming school exams scored far higher as key concerns. So again, the focus of anti-wind politicians who use their time to attack renewable energy schemes is misguided.
I would be the first to acknowledge that there are strong views on all sides of the wind energy debate but it is wholly unacceptable for local or national politicians to get away with attacking the generation of clean energy on the grounds that they speak for the man or woman in the street. The facts tell a very different story.