Is the number of wind turbines being built shooting up?

30 April 2012

"In a report published today, the Campaign to Protect Rural England says that the number of land-based turbines already built, being constructed or awaiting approval has risen from 685 to 4,100 in the past four years."

The Times, 30 April 2012

"CPRE claiming that there are 4,100 is absolutely ridiculous."

Maria McCaffery, Renewable UK, Today programme, 30 April 2012

The UK is the windiest country in Europe, but there is still strong opposition to some of the ways in which we harness that energy. The debate was revitalised today by a report which, while celebrating renewable technology, calls to protect the landscape through more strategic planning in land-built wind farms.

In the report author Bill Bryson, who presides over the Campaign to Protect Rural England, has called on the Government to make figures, strategy and planning clearer so as to "reconcile these two environmental ends — landscape protection and climate change mitigation".

CPRE also released figures of their own to the press this morning showing that the number of onshore turbines already built, being constructed or awaiting approval has risen from 685 to 4,100 in the past four years.

On the Today programme a spokesperson for CPRE said that they have to rely solely on statistics fromthe renewables industry. But Renewable UK chief executive told the Today programme that CPRE's figures were wrong.

So who is right?


The claim was made by CPRE in a press release, and although Full Fact have not seen the full release, their media team sent us this:

"In 2008 there were 685 30 metres or taller wind turbines either completed, in construction, or awaiting approval. By 2010 this had increased to 1,831 and at the start of 2012 the number was 3,442. Applications made by March this year brought the total to more than 4,100.  These statistics do not include turbines smaller than 30 metres which also add significantly to the strain on the planning system in many areas."

A spokesperson for CPRE said that the rise of 3,415 turbines built since 2008 came from compiling a spreadsheet from Renewable UK's list of operational wind farms, including the number of turbines, by date. The information comes from the Members Only part of Renewable UK's website, and CPRE said:

"We do not know why they do not make this data available to the public and could not find a public body source for this type of information."

CPRE's calculations are not, then, easily checkable. But they do reflect something different to what the Times claims.

The CPRE spokesperson said:

"Renewable UK were a little bit miffed with us because it [the 4,100 figure] included offshore and onshore."

While we haven't seen the full press release, the report which made the news today was specifically about onshore wind farms, so more care could have been taken to clarify this.

CPRE did, however, say that they had corrected a mistake originally made when they contacted the media on Saturday. The campaign had a mix-up over data containing "not the turbine numbers, but the maximum electricity" and made a proactive effort to contact the media and remedy the mistake once it was noticed.

Maria McCaffery of Renewable UK did quote some land-only figures on the Today programme for wind farms and turbines. She said that there are 115 wind farms, or 529 turbines in the pipeline (they have been confirmed but building has not yet started) and 94 wind farms, or 448 turbines would be built if all current planning applications went through. However, she stressed that there is only a 26 per cent success rate for wind farm planning applications. 

The Guardian complied an interesting map earlier this year, showing wind farm locations alongside MPs in opposition.


Without independent and publicly accessible data on wind turbine construction it is difficult to check the veracity of CPRE's findings. However it does seem that they have got slightly lost in translation in the media: rather than referring to onshore-only wind turbines, the 4,100 figure actually also includes offshore turbines, something that was missed by the Times.

While we will be requesting clarifications from the media outlets that have made mistakes here, it is encouraging to hear that CPRE themselves acted to correct another misunderstanding about the capacity for generating electricity, and we hope others will follow this lead.

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