Studies find Midwesterners open to wind farms, especially in rural areas

Mar 28, 2013 by Brian Wallheimer
Linda Prokopy's research sheds light on why some communities in Indiana are welcoming of wind turbines while others have rejected them. Credit: Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell

(Phys.org) —Indiana residents are overwhelmingly receptive to wind farms in their communities, even in areas that have rejected turbine development, according to Purdue University studies.

Linda Prokopy, an associate professor of natural resources planning, said much of the research on attitudes toward wind energy and has focused on coastal states and the reasons people don't want turbines in their communities. She and Kate Mulvaney, a former graduate student, wanted to know how people in the Midwest feel about having wind farms in their communities and the factors that led some places to embrace or reject them.

Prokopy and Mulvaney published two studies on their results in the journals Energy Policy and Environmental Management. One focused on Benton County, Indiana, which has embraced wind farms. The other study compared Benton County with two other Indiana counties - Boone County, which rejected wind farm development, and Tippecanoe County, which at the time was still considering wind farms. The researchers conducted surveys and interviews and studied local newspaper articles on .

"We found that there is not a lot of opposition from the people in the Midwest," Prokopy said. "And there are not a lot of perceived negative impacts from people who have or live near ."

In each county, more than 80 percent of survey respondents said they either supported wind farms in their counties or supported them with reservations. That was the case even in areas where were against wind farm development or newspaper articles trended toward more negative aspects of the farms.

"We would have expected differences in support based on the , but what we found was support across the board," Prokopy said.

Mulvaney said Benton County, which has more than 500 turbines and hundreds more approved, welcomed wind farms for a variety of reasons, including local and options for diversifying development within the agricultural-based economy.

"In Benton County, agricultural land is the basis of the economy," Mulvaney said. "Using the land to produce wind is the same or similar to using the land to produce a crop in many people's minds."

The Purdue Extension agent in that county was instrumental in helping to draft ordinances that benefited the communities in which turbines would be located and providing residents with information about wind farm impacts.

"He was definitely seen as a trusted source," Prokopy said.

Despite support from residents, Boone County turned down wind farm development. Prokopy said the biggest factors in that decision were a well-organized opposition and a lack of governmental support.

"The opposition appeared to come from people who worked in Indianapolis but lived in rural parts of the county. They wanted to preserve their landscape," Prokopy said. "They were in the minority, but they were very vocal and, thus, influential in terms of local government."

In Tippecanoe County, Prokopy and Mulvaney said the government was supportive, but there was also a strong vocal minority.

"The opposition in Tippecanoe County was focused on setbacks, noise regulations and other rules," Prokopy said. "It was focused on making sure people were protected."

Prokopy said the data suggest the Midwest could be more receptive to wind farm technology, especially in more rural areas that lack other development.

"It certainly shows that many of the concerns that have kept wind farms from developing on the coasts aren't issues here in the Midwest," Prokopy said.

Explore further: Engineers recall five-year planning for nation's largest federally owned wind project

More information: A Tale of Three Counties: Understanding Wind Development in the Rural Midwestern United States, Kate K. Mulvaney, Patrick Woodson, Linda Stalker Prokopy

Abstract
Understanding the context in which local wind farm development has been accepted by the local community is important for meeting the United States' wind energy goals. To further this understanding in the rural Midwest, we investigated three counties in Indiana with varying levels of wind farm development using a mail survey, stakeholder interviews and a review of local newspaper articles and government documents. We found high levels of acceptance for wind energy in general and for local wind farms in all three counties despite the differences in actual development. Multiple statistical methods were employed to identify factors leading to support of wind turbines within the community, but support was so high that no individual factors were identified as statistically significant. The survey and interviews showed that reasons for support of wind energy include economic benefits to the local community, environmental benefits and the protection of the agricultural lifestyle and landscape. Reasons for opposition include concerns about setback distances, impacts on rural lifestyles, and impacts on other types of development. Despite overall community support, the support of the local county governments varied and appears to have greatly impacted wind farm development within their jurisdictions.

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User comments : 12

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tadchem
1.8 / 5 (9) Mar 28, 2013
Given the ease with which surveys can be slewed with subtle changes in wording of questions or with leading context clues and such, I would have more confidence in this if the primary investigation *team* included a psychologist who was trained in the recognition and control of such biases.
Without conscious efforts to control such biases through a carefully balanced program of pre-educating the participants concerning both positive and negative consequences, surveys become insignificant and ephemeral, lasting only until the next study is published.
Lurker2358
1.6 / 5 (11) Mar 28, 2013
Nasssty wind turbines producing clean energy. Bad. Bad. NIMBY! We want COAL and smoke and nukes, those are safer than the harmless wind collection devices.
morningglori
2.1 / 5 (7) Mar 28, 2013
I agree with tadchem. Surveys get whatever result the group asking the questions want. It's all in the subtle way they word the question to slant the answers in their favour.

As for Lurker2358 -- You need to do your homework. Wind energy is not clean, not green, not free and definitely not harmless. I'm not in favour of coal, but wind turbines are an environmental nightmare. You can't blanket the country with 400 foot tall industrial machines and possibly think there won't be any sort of negative impact.

If they didn't have that innocent look of a child's pinwheel to them, but actually looked like any other sort of industrial machine that hovered hundreds of feet over the land, you would see them for what they really are. Don't be so easily fooled by their looks.
Lurker2358
2 / 5 (8) Mar 28, 2013
Much of the eastern half of this country used to be covered in 100ft tall forests in places which now have no forest.

And what about skyscraper buildings made out of hundreds of times as much steel and concrete, and 2 to 4 times taller than the wind turbines? Those are obviously disrupting weather far more than the wind turbines ever would.

Go look at the cooling towers of a nuke planet, or a coal fired plant, and look how much steel and concrete they use, and how much of the atmosphere they disrupt. The wind turbines are a small thing compared to even the "optimal" operation of coal or nuke power, never mind the pollution or accidents.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Mar 28, 2013
In each county, more than 80 percent of survey respondents said they either supported wind farms in their counties or supported them with reservations. That was the case even in areas where local governments were against wind farm development or newspaper articles trended toward more negative aspects of the farms.

Who owns the politicians and the media? Follow the money.
Lurker2358
2.1 / 5 (11) Mar 28, 2013
The wind turbine only directly affects about 6.6% of the area of the farm due to required spacing to maximize per-unit efficiency, and only about 1% vertically of the first 30,000ft of the troposphere, where most rain-making weather occurs, and even then only 30% efficiency.

So let's do some math of what fraction of change in energy of the atmosphere occurs per unit volume.

30% of 1% of 6.6% equals 0.000198

That's right, about 2 hundredths of one percent change in energy. This is not even enough to register on most thermometers or hydrometers, and is a smaller precision than the official data used by NWS for temperature and humidity. In other words, you cannot even measure that small of a difference.

PLUS you have to figure the area of the wind farm is a tiny fraction of the entire state or region, lowering the fraction of regional changes even more.
Shootist
1 / 5 (9) Mar 28, 2013
Kill all birds and bats and other flying critters.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) Mar 28, 2013
That's right, about 2 hundredths of one percent change in energy.
You would be surprised, how the "2 hundredths of one percent" can affect the local climate.
antialias_physorg
3.3 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2013
Kill all birds and bats and other flying critters.

This myth has been debunked before.
http://www.mother...turbines
kochevnik
1.6 / 5 (5) Mar 29, 2013
@morningglori As for Lurker2358 -- You need to do your homework. Wind energy is not clean, not green, not free and definitely not harmless. I'm not in favour of coal, but wind turbines are an environmental nightmare. You can't blanket the country with 400 foot tall industrial machines and possibly think there won't be any sort of negative impact.
Pure FUD. 100% opinion 0% facts. How many people have been killed by windmills?
Kill all birds and bats and other flying critters.
Birds have been shown to adapt to highway traffic in ONE generation. So your faux concern is without any merit
kochevnik
1 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2013
Is this the "silent spring" Carson warned about? All the pro-nuke big oil propellerheads abandoned this thread for their playststions and gameboys
Tom_Andersen
1 / 5 (6) Mar 31, 2013
Big Oil loves wind.
Wind energy is installed and promoted by 'Big Energy'. Companies like BP, Nextera, GE, Suncor, Shell, etc, own these installations and make lots of money on them.
Wind, solar and ethanol form the 'green industrial complex' - a group of large companies dedicated to raising energy prices and thus profits.