Are public objections to wind farms overblown?

Are public objections to wind farms overblown?
Wind turbines are becoming as American as haybales. Credit: MattJP, CC BY-SA

While most surveys suggest that the public generally supports wind and solar power, opposition from local communities and residents sometimes blocks or delays specific new projects.

Consider the ill-fated Cape Wind offshore project, which was slated to be powering Cape Cod by now. Although Massachusetts has some of the nation's strongest renewable energy policies, a group of coastal homeowners in that state objected vociferously soon after Cape Wind Associates, the developer, first proposed building it in 2001. They ultimately filed more than a dozen lawsuits over 14 years, creating hassles and delays that along with opposition from other parties doomed it.

As renewable energy researchers witnessing similar storylines play out across the country, we wanted to see how much local opposition there is to existing . With funding from the Energy Department and help from our colleagues, we teamed up to undertake the largest scientific study to date on how people who live near U.S. wind farms perceive them.

Wind rush

As of the end of 2017, about 50,000 utility-scale wind turbines were supplying nearly 7 percent of the electricity in the U.S. With experts foreseeing another 3,000 turbines per year on average coming online in the years ahead, more and more people will be living near wind farms.

Are public objections to wind farms overblown?
Credit: Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: American Wind Energy Association

Clearly, community support or opposition could either speed up or slow down the growth of this renewable energy source.

And there's no doubt that fighting about makes for interesting journalism. It's a story that highlights the conflicts that can arise among local residents and efforts to reap global benefits. While is supposed to save the world, questions have arisen regarding its potential impacts on wildlife, public health – in the form of ailments allegedly caused by wind farms – and perceived fears of eroded property values and tourism revenue.

In general, we have observed that the media coverage of attitudes toward wind energy tends to be very anecdotal. Vivid stories of suffering dominate the discussion, which is often devoid of fundamental or methodical analysis of public opinion, the severity of the associated annoyances or even the extent of discontent among people living next to or near wind farms.

Facts vs. anecdotes

Our research is meant to help fill that gap. In this Lawrence Berkeley National Lab-led project, we asked 1,700 people living near 250 wind farms across 34 states to tell us how they really felt about being so close to those turbines.

Are public objections to wind farms overblown?
Credit: Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

We found that as of 2015, more than 1.3 million homes are within five miles of a utility-scale wind turbine, a number that is increasing. And despite what you may have read in the media, our survey showed that most people living within five miles, and even within a half-mile, of wind farms don't mind the turbines.

We also looked into the most common reactions to wind sounds, shadow flicker, lighting and landscape changes, as well as the perceived fairness of the public planning and siting process.

As it happens, we found that only 16 percent of all residents within five miles of wind farms had ever heard the turbines make any noise. Of those, 27 percent found the noise moderately or very annoying. Further, we learned that roughly two-thirds of those who were aware of their local planning process for the wind project perceived it as having been largely "fair."

In general, the positive attitudes the survey's respondents expressed about wind projects followed a few patterns. People hosting turbines on their property, as well as those being compensated for the power they generate were more apt to say the planning process was fair and to view wind power in a positive light.

People who harbored negative attitudes about wind power were more likely to be annoyed by sounds the turbines make, to say that clashed with the surrounding landscape and to say that they found the project's planning process to have been unfair.

Are public objections to wind farms overblown?
A map of the communities covered by research regarding whether local residents mind living near wind turbines. Credit: U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, CC BY
Engagement helps

There is no magical way to resolve siting conflicts that sometimes arise over wind farms.

While turbines may be getting quieter due to technology improvements, they are also getting bigger. Taller towers and longer blades are driving down the cost of energy production and allowing production in areas previously considered uneconomical due to low average wind speeds, such as Delaware, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Since bigger turbines are harder to miss and can be seen from farther away, this change may create more conflict in the future.

But no matter what, wind project developers clearly must actively engage, coordinate and cooperate with local communities and community members. Inclusive and transparent planning processes can dissipate local residents' fears. Local ownership and financial benefits may help sway nearby residents who would otherwise object to a new wind farm.

Taking these steps could help prevent future debacles like Cape Wind in the future, as, finally, offshore wind is poised to take off in the U.S. While there is no silver bullet to ensure a wind farm's successful completion, developers, planners and other stakeholders should heed the lessons from the large body of rigorous analysis rather than unrepresentative anecdotes about public distaste for turbines that often garner media coverage.

Explore further

Wind energy's swift growth, explained (Update)

Provided by The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.The Conversation

Citation: Are public objections to wind farms overblown? (2018, May 2) retrieved 17 June 2019 from
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User comments

May 02, 2018
Not in my backyard.
Join the real green movement: replace every bird-chopper("greenwashing" for natgas) with a tree.

May 02, 2018
Give 'em money to shut up.

OK, so is this sustainable? How much do you get to whine when your neighbor installs a few wind turbines? Is this wind power blackmail? Are we paying greedy people who claim damages that are non-existent?

Are these people psychotic? People who install aluminum foil on their windows to block out microwaves from the neighbors are. So what now?

Not in my backyard.
This is an acronym: NIMBY. And it's not complimentary. In general NIMBY = asshole who is against progress and installs aluminum foil on their windows.

May 02, 2018
I want to complain about giant rolls of hay in my neighbor's field. I want 20% of his gross selling the giant rolls of hay. NIMBY.

May 02, 2018
Give 'em money to shut up.
taxpayers' money?
...who is against progress...
Windmills and sails are not progress, they represent a setback to the medieval ages and energy poverty.
- Wind, solar and biomass are the past.
- Fossil fuels are the present.
- Carbon-free nuclear energy is the future.
"Plant Neighbors Say 'YIMBY' to Local Nuclear Plants" - Nov. 16, 2017
"The more you know about renewables, the less you like them. The more you know about nuclear, the more you like it. The only thing holding us back is ignorance, superstition and fear of the unknown."

May 02, 2018
taxpayers' money?
Ratepayers' money? Six of one and a half dozen of the other.

Tell us where we're getting rid of the waste before we build them. I think we tried that and got NIMBY. Maybe you forgot. My search on "nuclear waste NIMBY" got articles from 2001, 2007, and 2015 that all were against nuclear waste storage in deserted areas far from their domiciles. If it's so safe how come nobody wants one in their state? Just askin'.

And I still want some money for putting up with the giant marshmallows in your fields that are reducing my home price.

May 03, 2018
Tell us where we're getting rid of the waste...
Put it in my backyard. It's safer than mercury(teratogen) present in coal ashes and arsenide and other chemical carcinogens in solar panels that never lose their toxicity with time.
Commercial nuclear waste has killed no one, it is tiny and safely stored in dry casks and emits less radiation than a bunch of bananas.
"Nuclear Waste: Ideas vs Reality"
"Used Nuclear Fuel"

May 03, 2018
Windmills and sails are not progress, they represent a setback to the medieval ages and energy poverty.

It's true. A modern wind turbine produces no more energy and is equally inefficient as a wind-powered flour mill from the 1600s. And the Dutch are still taking out wind turbines in droves by sabotaging them with their wooden shoes. Come to think of it, shoes are a setback to the medieval ages. Shoe technology hasn't changed in centuries either, and all the cool people like WillieWard are now walking around with pigs strapped to their feet.

May 03, 2018
On a 16Century landscape
They have got 20 windmills down in Dymchurch in Kent, its so calm down there they stand idle most of the time. There so efficient they have dismantled the archaic nuclear power stations within sight and replaced them with a modern gas fired generator. That's real progress; we cannot cling to outdated power stations when we have modern generators that would not look out of date on a 16Century landscape.

May 04, 2018
they have dismantled the archaic nuclear power stations within sight and replaced them with a modern gas fired generator. That's real progress;
"Some environmentalists don't want to hear the facts about natural gas, as many are actively promoting it as a bridge fuel."
"A new NASA study is one final nail in the coffin of the myth that natural gas is a climate solution, or a "bridge" from the dirtiest fossil fuels to low-carbon fuels like solar and wind."
"Natural Gas has No Climate Benefit and May Make Things Worse"
"If too much methane leaks out as natural gas is drilled and pumped from the ground, it could negate any climate benefits derived from switching fuels."

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