Wind makes a good neighbor
Last year, my good friend Anna spent the summer in a small, rural Ontario Airbnb. She was unaware when booking the home that it was near a wind farm, and was concerned initially about noise and shadow flicker. Neither affected her and it turned out that she loved seeing the nearby wind turbines. Anna told me the tall, windgenerating towers became a daily reminder for her of the environment and doing her part to preserve and keep it clean.
“My grandmother used to tell me that the earth is something we all share in common, so I’d best take care of it,” she said. “Sometimes it’s good to get a reminder.”
For Anna, a few spinning turbines prompted her to evaluate and streamline her own ecological footprint. She’s also become a serious wind advocate. As it turns out Anna’s positive attitude toward wind energy is one held by a majority of homeowners living near turbines in the U.S. Statistics show that over 1.3 million homes in America are within five miles of a large wind turbine.
Until recently, the U.S. wind industry lacked a comprehensive understanding of the attitudes of those who lived near turbines. So in 2015, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory began a four-year, large-scale data collection project of individual attitudes of those living near wind farms, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Three years into the research, preliminary analysis finds that a large majority of individuals within five miles, and even within half-a-mile, have positive attitudes toward the turbines in their community. In fact, more than 9 in 10 people who live close to wind turbines view them positively or neutrally.
What’s more, the Berkeley-led study is also examining individual perceptions of “wind-turbine sounds, shadow flicker, lighting and landscape changes; and participation in and perceived fairness of the wind-power project’s planning and siting process.”
This is important for two reasons. Feedback is essential if the wind industry is going to continually build the highest quality and safest wind farms possible. Secondly, it takes multiple partnerships and communities to maintain a successful industry — and that starts with open and honest lines of communication.
According to a 2017 wind study by Ontariobased Western University, the more a community is aware of a project’s benefits and involved in the planning process, the more likely it is that a proposed wind farm will gain local support.
Similarly, when Berkeley Lab respondents were asked for their opinion on fairness relating to wind project planning, developer transparency and openness ranked high. Interestingly, compensation (such as discounts on energy bills) is not an indicator of perceived planning process fairness.
“The ability of the community or individual to influence the outcome of the project (for example, the number or location of the wind turbines) is also significantly related to beliefs about planning process fairness.” This is according to a summary of the preliminary analysis found at tinyurl.com/WindNeighbors. While there’s another year to go before the final analysis is complete, the data is providing valuable insight for developers.
It is particularly relevant as the offshore wind industry launches in the U.S., and may serve to mitigate unnecessary project delays or disappointments (think Cape Wind). As Anna’s grandmother once pointed out we all share the earth, so ideally we should all get a voice on how we maintain it. I also think wind turbines are a fine reminder to all live more sustainably.
Windpower Engineering & Development