Articles yield insights into Americans living near wind projects, including their attitudes and levels of annoyance

November 19, 2019

More than 1.5 million American homes are within 5 miles of large wind turbines, yet, until recently, no comprehensive effort had analyzed the attitudes and annoyances of such households. Today, five peer-reviewed journal articles—including three published just recently—help fill this gap, illuminating the individual experiences and community dynamics of wind turbine neighbors.

The articles arose from a 4-year project that surveyed residents living within 5 miles of 250 existing U.S. wind power projects. Article topics include a comprehensive review of literature on North American public acceptance of wind projects, identification of key correlates to positive and negative attitudes, analysis of perceptions of planning-process fairness with recommendations for improvements, sound modeling to predict turbine-related audibility and annoyance, and a comparison of strongly annoyed wind project neighbors in the United States and Europe.

The literature review found that, despite 30 years of research on wind energy acceptance in North America, significant knowledge gaps remained. Although that prior work consistently reported high levels of support and positive attitudes toward wind energy on average, outcomes varied based on factors such as socioeconomic impacts, procedural fairness, and sensory perceptions.

The new articles help clarify those factors. Key findings include the following:

  • Attitudes of residents within 5 miles of U.S. turbines are seven times more likely to be positive than negative. Those living within half a mile of a turbine are twice as likely to have positive attitudes.
  • Strong evidence suggests that community attitudes become more positive over time as residents self-select into houses near existing wind projects.
  • Negative attitudes correlate with residents’ ability to hear the turbines, perceptions that turbines do not fit into the landscape, and beliefs that turbines reduce property values.
  • Cultivation of transparent relationships with local communities by wind developers correlates strongly with perceptions of planning-process fairness and positive attitudes toward projects—when residents can not only comment on a wind proposal but also can influence the project layout, more positive attitudes arise.
  • Factors that affect wind turbine audibility and perceived noise annoyance differ: turbine sound levels are the strongest predictor of audibility but not of perceived noise annoyance; instead, subjective variables—such as visual perception, self-reported noise sensitivity, attitudes prior to construction, and whether respondents moved into the community before or after construction—correlate significantly with perceived noise annoyance.
  • Annoyance with associated stress reactions is rare, and it also correlates with subjective variables, such as perceived planning-process fairness, rather than objective indicators such as setback distance or sound pressure level.

The study, A National Survey of Attitudes of Wind Power Project Neighbors, was led by researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in collaboration with researchers from the University of Delaware, Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and the Medical School of Hamburg (in Germany), RSG (a consultancy in Vermont), Portland State University, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Survey data were collected from 1,705 randomly selected individuals within 5 miles of modern (> 1.5 MW and taller than 354 feet) wind turbines in 2016, spanning 24 states and surrounding 250 wind power projects. The 50 question survey was conducted via phone, mail, and internet. It represents the largest national survey of wind project neighbors conducted anywhere in the world to date.

A high-level summary of key survey results, along with links to the articles and related presentations, is available at https://emp.lbl.gov/projects/wind-neighbor-survey.

 

Full Citations (all available free for download)

Firestone, J., Hoen, B., Rand, J., Elliott, D., Hübner, G., and Pohl, J. (2018). Reconsidering Barriers to Wind Power Projects: Community Engagement, Developer Transparency and Place. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 20(3): 370-385. https://doi.org/10.1080/1523908X.2017.1418656

Haac, T.R., Kaliski, K., Landis, M., Hoen, B., Rand, J., Firestone, J., Elliott, D., Hübner, G., and Pohl, J. (2019). Wind Turbine Audibility and Noise Annoyance in a National U.S. Survey: Individual Perception and Influencing Factors. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 146(2): 1124-1141. https://doi.org/10.1121/1.5121309

Hoen, B., Firestone, J., Rand, J., Elliot, D., Hübner, G., Pohl, J., Wiser, R., Lantz, E., Haac, T.R., and Kaliski, K. (2019). Attitudes of U.S. Wind Turbine Neighbors: Analysis of a Nationwide Survey. Energy Policy, 134: 110981. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2019.110981

Hübner, G., Pohl, J., Hoen, B., Firestone, J., Rand, J., Elliott, D., and Haac, R. (2019). Monitoring Annoyance and Stress Effects of Wind Turbines on Nearby Residents: A Comparison of U.S. and European Samples. Environment International, 132: 105090. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2019.105090

Rand, J., and Hoen, B. (2017). Thirty Years of North American Wind Energy Acceptance Research: What Have We Learned? Energy Research & Social Science, 29: 135-148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2017.05.019. Free pre-print download available here: https://emp.lbl.gov/publications/thirty-years-north-american-wind

 

Support for this work was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy Wind Energy Technologies Office. The Electricity Markets and Policy Group at Berkeley Lab conducts technical, economic, and policy analysis of energy topics centered on the U.S. electricity sector. Follow us on Twitter at @BerkeleyLabEMP.

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