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ASA Adjudication on Save Trannon Moor Action Group

Save Trannon Moor Action Group t/a STAG

Trefeglwys
Powys
SY17 5QG

Date:

28 May 2008

Media:

Circular

Sector:

Non-commercial

Number of complaints:

1

Complaint Ref:

49695

Ad

A leaflet, distributed by Save Trannon Moor Action Group (STAG) in opposition to a proposed wind farm development, stated "WIND FARM THREAT to TREFEGLWYS and LLAWR-Y-GLYN WIND ENERGY IS; [sic] Inefficient -- produces only 28% of capacity on average Intermittent and uncontrollable -- it needs permanent back-up from fossil fuel or nuclear power stations THE TREFEGLWYS/LLAWR-Y-GLYN WIND POWER STATION ... Will devastate wildlife -- birds bats and other mammals will all suffer. Will threaten the health of local residents -- noise, vibration and blade flicker Will waste money -- subsidies will be charged to everyone's electricity bills ...". The leaflet also included a picture of a wind turbine; text next to it stated "TURBINE about 400ft".

Issue

Acciona Energy UK Ltd (Acciona) challenged whether STAG could substantiate the claims:

1. "Inefficient -- produces only 28% of capacity on average";

2. "Intermittent and uncontrollable -- it needs permanent back-up from fossil fuel or nuclear power stations";

3. "Will devastate wildlife -- birds bats and other mammals will all suffer";

4. "Will threaten the health of local residents -- noise, vibration and blade flicker"; and

5. "Will waste money -- subsidies will be charged to everyone's electricity bills ... ".

6. Acciona also challenged the claim that the turbines at the proposed wind farm would be 400 feet tall.

CAP Code (Edition 11)

Response

1. STAG argued that the output of wind farms was expressed as a percentage of installed capacity, which varied according to location and wind strength. They asserted that an average of 28% was commonly accepted and they had therefore quoted that in their leaflet. They said the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) 2007 stated that, on average, wind farms had a capacity factor of 0.274 in 2006.

2. STAG asserted that wind turbines did not operate when there was too little or too much wind. They argued that, because they were not generating all the time, wind turbines output was intermittent and uncontrollable. They asserted that back-up generation from conventional power stations was needed and that back-up had been estimated at 0.80 of installed capacity.

3. STAG argued that the erection of a wind turbine required concrete foundations and that, in other areas of Wales, that had resulted in large quantities of peat being removed from peat bogs. They said the laying of cables and access roads required drainage and disrupted the ecology, which they believed destroyed the character of the moor and could cause flooding due to run-off.

STAG argued that the turbines themselves would harm birds, bats and animals. They asserted that a red kite was killed by a wind turbine in recent years in Wales. They said the RSPB and Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust examined each wind farm application on its merits and had objected to wind farm proposals in the past; they believed they would assess the proposed Trefeglwys/Llawr-y-glyn site as well.

STAG accepted that the word "devastate" was an exaggeration, but said their leaflet was intended to raise awareness and make the point that wind turbines were harmful; they believed the claim "cause adverse impact" would have been better and said they would not use the word "devastate" again unless they could substantiate it.  

4. STAG argued that it was well known that noise from wind turbines, including infrasound and vibration, could cause health problems and that had been experienced even by people for whom the turbine was not visible from their home. They maintained that the National Academy of Medicine in France had recommended that no turbines were constructed within 1.5 km of residences.

They asserted that, in the UK, noise assessment from wind turbines was measured under a system set out in report ETSU-R-97 written by a noise working group and based on the experience of wind farms built in the 1990s. They said an independent study commissioned by the DTI and published in 2006, concluded that "Some wind farms clearly result in modulation at night which is greater than that assumed within the ETSU-R-97 guidelines". They said the noise working group were undertaking further work.

STAG argued that the size of turbines had increased by at least twofold since ETSU-R-97 and believed the UK Noise Association recommended that no turbine should be less than a mile from the nearest dwellings. They asserted that blade flicker was also a source of irritation but that it could not be assessed until location details of the turbines were known.

5. STAG argued that there were large subsidies available to the developers of wind farms. They asserted that the subsidy for each wind turbine was estimated at £235,000 to £300,000 and the cost to the consumer was estimated to reach £1 billion a year by 2010. They said OFGEM had stated that "This money could be spent on more efficient measures to reduce CO2 emissions and to develop other renewable technologies".

6. STAG said they did not know the exact height of the blades when they produced the ad and they had therefore stated "About 400 feet"; they believed that was the typical height of a new turbine. They said they had been told the actual height would be 377 feet which they argued was an error of only 23 feet and not therefore that significant.

Assessment

1. Upheld

The ASA noted the figure of 28% quoted by STAG was based on the load or capacity factor (CF) of a wind turbine.  We noted the DUKES figures referred to by STAG stated that in 2006 wind farms had a CF of 0.274 on average.  We understood, however, that efficiency normally referred to the actual amount of energy extracted as a fraction of the total energy available.  By contrast, we noted the CF referred to the amount of energy extracted as a fraction of the theoretical maximum amount of energy and not the amount of energy actually available to a turbine in the course of a year.  We considered that the CF was not an appropriate method of assessing the actual efficiency or inefficiency of a wind turbine and concluded that the claim was therefore likely to mislead.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 49.3 (Environmental claims).

2. Not upheld

We considered that readers were likely to understand the claim to refer to the reliability of the wind conditions at the site. We noted wind farms generated electricity most of the time but also noted the wind was not constant and it was not possible to control or guarantee the levels of wind at the site of a wind farm. We therefore considered that readers were likely to understand the claim as a view on the nature of wind. We also understood that wind energy tended to be backed up by secondary generation sources to counter any such intermittencies and therefore considered that the claim ... "it needs permanent back-up from fossil fuel or nuclear power stations" was a statement of fact.  We considered, therefore, that the claim was unlikely to mislead.

On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 49.3 (Environmental claims) but did not find it in breach.

3., 4. & 5. Upheld

We noted the claims came under the text "THE TREFEGLWYS/LLAWR-Y-GLYN WIND POWER STATION ..." and considered that readers would understand they were specific to the proposed site at Trefeglwys/llawr-y-glyn. We considered that, to substantiate the claims, we would need to see documentary evidence to show that that specific site would devastate wildlife, with birds, bats and other mammals suffering, threaten the health of local residents and waste money with subsidies charged to everyone's electricity bills. We noted STAG had referred to general wildlife, noise and financial reports but we considered that that did not show that all wind farms would be subject to those problems. We also noted we had not seen any site-specific documentary evidence to show that the proposed site at Trefeglwys/Llawr-y-glyn would devastate wildlife, with birds, bats and other mammals suffering, threaten the health of local residents and waste money with subsidies charged to everyone's electricity bills. We concluded therefore that the claims were misleading.

On points 3, 4 & 5, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 49.3 (Environmental claims).  

6. Not upheld

We considered that readers would understand from the picture and the claim "about 400ft" that the turbines would be close to, but not exactly, 400 feet in height.  We understood Acciona had applied for wind turbines up to 377 feet tall. We considered that 377 feet was sufficiently close in height to 400 feet for the claim "about 400ft" not to materially mislead readers about the height of the proposed turbines.

On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not find it in breach.

Action

We told STAG to remove the claims "Inefficient -- produces only 28% of capacity on average", "Will devastate wildlife -- birds bats and other mammals will all suffer", "Will threaten the health of local residents -- noise, vibration and blade flicker" and "Will waste money -- subsidies will be charged to everyone's electricity bills ... ". We advised them to consult the CAP Copy Advice team before advertising in future.

Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)

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