Offshore wind farm developments - public perceptions: survey

Findings from a survey exploring public perceptions of offshore wind farm (OWF) developments in Scotland. It describes whether and how respondents in Scotland have been impacted by OWFs, their attitudes to OWFs, and how OWFS affect their tourism and recreation choices.

1 Background and methodology

1.1 Background

The Scottish Government has set a target of generating 50% of Scotland's overall energy from renewable sources by 2030,[3] and offshore wind generation has a crucial part to play in delivering against these targets.

The most recent Programme for Government, "A Fairer, Greener, Scotland" 2021-2022 published by the Scottish Government in September 2021 reaffirms the statutory commitment for Scotland to be a 'net zero society' by 2045.[4] Specifically included is the commitment to, "make offshore wind central to our delivery of emissions reduction targets through further ScotWind leasing rounds over this Parliament." As outlined in the Offshore Wind Policy Statement, there is as much as 11GW of offshore wind capacity possible in Scottish waters by 2030.[5]

The Sectoral Marine Plan for offshore wind energy outlines the significant amount of offshore wind energy activity to date.[6] There are 14 offshore wind farms having received consent, with five currently operational. To put that in context, there is currently 0.894 GW capacity installed and a capacity of 5.62 GW available in consented installations. In January 2022 Crown Estate Scotland awarded option agreements to 17 projects totalling almost 25GW in its ScotWind offshore wind lease auction, the first Scottish offshore wind leasing round in over a decade[7].

The Scottish Government is aware of the potential social and economic benefits that could arise through the development of Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) in Scotland. The fourth chapter of the 2021-2022 Programme for Government outlines the investments made to "create new, good and green jobs", and describes the importance of creating new jobs and help for workers transitioning into green jobs, in low carbon industries such as offshore renewables.

The Scottish Government's ambition is to maximise the potential positive impacts and minimise potential negative impacts from ORE for local communities and the nation as a whole. One of the ways this is being achieved is by carrying out Socio-Economic Impact Assessments (SEIA) to ensure that any new projects are planned and developed with these impacts in mind.

Current research on the social impacts of offshore wind farms often focuses on attitudes to offshore wind farms and renewable energy,[8] or explores the reasons for opposition.[9] There is little research looking at the experience of living near a development or characterising the impacts of a development throughout its life cycle. It is widely understood that engaging with stakeholders and communities and providing clear information about a development and the range of changes it might bring about, is crucial for gaining local acceptance.[10] Without understanding these impacts and how they might change over the course of a project, there is a limit to how effective stakeholder and community engagement can be.

At the time of the survey, there were five major operational offshore wind farms in Scottish waters, two under construction and others in the planning phase. The locations of these developments are illustrated in Figure 1.1.

Despite the importance of ORE for Scotland's economy and the value of understanding local perceptions, there is little existing research with members of the public in Scotland on this topic. To fill this research gap, this research was commissioned on Scottish public perceptions of offshore wind farm developments. As the first study of its kind, results within this report can act as a benchmark for future public research following ongoing policy implementation.

Figure 1.1 Offshore wind farm development locations in Scotland

shows the location of wind farm developments in Scotland. It consists a of a map of Scotland with symbols in red showing the offshore wind developments that are under construction, an symbols in green showing those that are operational.

Offshore wind developments can generate opposition for a number of reasons. Literature considering these developments in countries such as the United States and Denmark has included concerns about the change in cultural characteristics of a community, or the affect a development may have on particular groups (for example the fishing community or those working in tourism).[11] Gaining insight into the experiences of those living close to offshore wind farms was seen as crucial in this commission to contribute to the evidence base around the socio-economic impacts of offshore wind developments in Scotland.

This research was conducted during a period of national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is unlikely that the pandemic affected the overall perceptions of offshore wind farm developments. However, it should be noted that this research was conducted during a period when respondents were not permitted to travel for non-essential purposes.[12] The visibility of offshore wind farms would have been absent for all but those who lived, or conducted work for essential services, on a coastal vantage point.

1.2 Aims and objectives

The aim of this research was to explore views about the development of offshore wind farms using both a representative national sample of the Scottish population, and a sample of those who live in coastal communities across Scotland. The specific objectives of the study were to establish views on:

  • the perceptions and experiences of those living near offshore wind developments based on their lived experiences
  • whether and why perceptions and experiences change at different stages of a development (planning, construction, operation)
  • what factors affect perceptions and experiences of living near offshore wind developments
  • whether, and in what way, offshore wind farms influence people's decisions regarding tourism and recreation in coastal areas.

Additionally, the research was designed to enable robust sub-group analysis to take place and this report comments on significant differences on a range of factors, including by different age groups and social class groups. The full survey questionnaires are included in Appendix A.

1.3 Methodology and Questionnaire design

The questionnaire was designed in partnership with Marine Scotland, ensuring that all key issues were included, and that design principles were upheld, namely that:

  • questionnaires should not be too long
  • questionnaires should be ordered to avoid confusion and bias
  • questions should be clear and written in plain English
  • all instructions to respondents should be clear and unambiguous
  • respondent confidentiality should be respected and communicated to respondents.

The survey was administered online through the ScotPulse online panel of more than 31,000 adults (age 16+) across Scotland. ScotPulse is a dedicated online research panel with members across Scotland, including those in remote, rural and coastal areas. Panel members sign up on a voluntary basis and are not paid to complete surveys. The panel is recruited through a range of advertising. This includes advertising on national television as well as on social media, ensuring that it is available beyond those who have social media profiles. Participants are chosen at random to participate. In some studies, this may be a simple random sample, while in others there may be stratification of the population involved. In this study a simple random sample approach was taken for the national and coastal surveys.

Survey fieldwork took place between 11th and 16th February 2021. A total of 2,065 completed responses were achieved:

  • 1,000 adults aged 16+, representative of the national population in Scotland, demographically and geographically,
  • 1,065 adults aged 16+ who live in Scottish postcodes with a coastal sea border.

1.4 Data weighting

National survey data were weighted to the age and gender profile of the population in Scotland using mid-year population estimates.[13] Data from the survey of coastal residents were weighted to the age and gender profile of the coastal population using estimates from Scotland's Census 2011.[14]

1.5 Defining key terms

One key theme in this report is consideration of differences in attitudes between people who live in different parts of Scotland in terms of their proximity to offshore wind farms. To that end, the following categories of respondent were agreed upon, broken down in Table 1.1 below:

Table 1.1 Definitions of each type of respondent
Term Definition
All respondents Respondents from both the national and the coastal survey.
National respondents Respondents who took part in the nationally representative survey, defined as those who live in postcodes in Scotland with or without a coastal border.
Coastal Respondents Respondents who took part in the targeted coastal survey, defined as those who live in postcodes with a coastal border.
Lived experience A subset of the coastal sample - respondents who have the same outward postcode as an area which is used during the construction of an offshore wind farm. This includes areas where there is onshore infrastructure, where the offshore cables make landfall and areas which are parallel to the offshore development.

1.6 Pilot Testing

A pilot of the survey was carried out with 65 respondents between 4th and 5th February 2021 to ensure the scripting of the questionnaire was correct and to gain insights from participants on survey length and any issues encountered. The main purpose of the pilot was to check the timing of the survey and to receive feedback from participants. This pilot was conducted on coastal communities since this version of the survey was longer and accounted for the more complex question 'routing', meaning the way in which respondents are guided through the survey depending on the answers that they give.

Feedback to the pilot survey was positive with respondents reporting that it flowed well, was a reasonable length and easily understood. One minor refinement was conducted, separating 'agriculture and fisheries' employment codes into different options at the relevant questions (see Appendix A, National survey question 13, Coastal survey question 21).

1.7 Presentation and interpretation of findings

The survey findings indicate the prevalence of views and experiences in answer to the survey questions. Where percentages do not sum to 100%, this is due to rounding, the exclusion of 'don't know' categories, or multiple answers. Aggregate percentages (for example where 'satisfied' and 'very satisfied' responses are combined) are calculated from the absolute values. Therefore, aggregate percentages may differ from the sum of the individual scores due to rounding of percentage totals. Throughout the report, an asterisk (*) denotes any value of less than half a per cent and a dash (-) denotes zero. For questions where the number of respondents is less than 30, the number of times a response has been selected (n), rather than the percentage, is given.

Answers to open-ended questions are analysed and reported thematically. This data is qualitative in nature and therefore it is not appropriate to draw conclusions from this type of data about the prevalence of views or experiences, but rather to indicate the range of different views expressed.

1.8 Analysis and Reporting

The analysis focusses on a range of population sub-groups of demographic and geographic characteristics. Sub-group analysis was undertaken using R Studio software. Statistical tests were run to ascertain differences within achieved samples for these sub-groups:

  • gender
  • age group
  • socio-economic grouping[15]
  • Scottish Government 6-fold Urban-Rural classification[16]
  • proximity to an offshore wind farm
  • employment sector.

Significance testing, at a 95% confidence level (p<0.05) was applied. Differences are only reported when statistically significant. Reporting does not include every result of every statistical test conducted; the most relevant results are highlighted. In addition, a full anonymised dataset, containing the raw data collected is provided separately to this report.

The remainder of this report sets out the detailed findings and is structured as follows:

  • Knowledge of and attitudes to Scotland's marine industries
  • Broad perceptions of Offshore Wind farms
  • Perceived impact of Offshore Wind farms
  • Impact on recreation and tourism
  • Conclusions.



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