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      Generation & Storage, Policy & Regulation, Transmission & Distribution — 6 mins read

      The Rise in Anti-Renewables Sentiment and Misinformation

      When it comes to renewable energy projects, it’s crucial to engage with local communities to address any legitimate concerns they may have.

      But the spread of misinformation about renewables (both online and within communities) often goes beyond legitimate concerns.

      This can make it difficult to get renewable energy projects underway.

      Some examples of anti-renewable rhetoric

      The sort of misinformation that surrounds projects includes:

      • Offshore wind farms kill whales – spread lately in the Illawarra and Hunter regions, even though marine scientists have confirmed there is no evidence for the claim, and Greenpeace (that bastion of whale protection) says there is nothing to it.
      • Wind power is fraud – this one comes from a group called Stop These Things, which has a blatantly-stated goal to “destroy the wind industry”. The group’s claims include such things as wind farms make people sick and actually increase rather than reduce carbon emissions.
      • Solar panels could consume up to a third of prime agricultural land – a claim made by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and mining magnate Gina Rheinhart. But this is despite the fact that many solar farms can (and are) being used for both electricity generation and sheep grazing or cropping at the same time.

      Why do these claims take hold and what can be done?

      False claims about renewable energy are more likely to take hold where people in the community feel they have been overlooked or not consulted about a proposed project. This makes cultivating social licence early to gain a community’s trust a crucial first step.

      This includes listening to community concerns (even where anger is being expressed), showing respect for differing views, taking time to build relationships (which may take years!), demonstrating transparency, and providing updates all the way through the process.

      Once community trust has been established, it becomes easier to counter the myths and rumours being spread.

      In its guidelines on community engagement, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) recommends starting with mapping of stakeholders (including sceptics) as this enables developers to identify engagement priorities and approaches. Some of the communication tools the CEC recommends include one-on-one briefings, newsletters, project websites, telephone information lines, drop-in centres, community site visits and community workshops for suggestions and feedback.

      Online Fact Sheets may also be helpful to counter misinformation – such as the Climate Council’s Offshore Wind fact sheet, which provides information on the lack of scientific consensus linking whale stranding to offshore wind.

      Using local voices for communication

      There is also a role for local voices in countering misinformation. Will Edmonds, who works in the energy sector, has experienced opposition to renewable energy based on misinformation first-hand within his own community in the Illawarra. Calling it a “sobering experience” he has found that in many cases it has more to do with anxiety about property values and ‘NIMBYism’ (not-in-my-backyard) than to real concerns about whales or birds. He has also encountered local opposition from surfing groups based on the fear that offshore wind farms will destroy surf conditions.

      Edmonds says counter-facts are often not communicated well enough to break through – although he has personally managed to change a few minds close to home! He believes it is helpful to use local voices to communicate the facts.

      “This is because local experts tend to be seen as more trustworthy and to care more about the local community and environment,” he says.

      An example of this is a piece in the Illawarra Flame by Professor Rob Brander (aka ‘Dr Rip’) – a highly-regarded surf scientist and keen local surfer. Brander’s article in the paper explains how and why offshore wind farms will not affect ocean waves or surfing conditions – reassuring surfing enthusiasts in the region that all is well.

      Edmonds has found that most people accept that climate change needs addressing, and that renewable energy is a necessary part of this. He says this provides an opportunity to point out the negative effect of climate change on whales, surf conditions, and the environment – which is of far greater concern than renewable projects.

      “The warming waters in Antarctica are going to be really bad for whales and for surf – far more than wind turbines!” Edmonds points out.

      Edmonds recommends using the three-step “sandwich technique” when communicating – which involves stating a fact from the research, identifying misinformation and tying the two together in a way that re-iterates factual information.

      One thing does seem certain – developers of renewable projects won’t be able to rely on online fact sheets to stop the spread of misinformation, with grassroots engagement in affected communities key.

      Tess Oliver, Article Writers Australia

      Energy Monthly

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      September 3, 2024 | Aerial UTS Function Centre | Sydney

      Industrial Net Zero Conference 2024

      September 10, 2024 | Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park

      Women in Energy & Renewables Summit 2024

      New call-to-action