Berkeley Lab report examines factors influencing community acceptance of wind energy

June 28, 2017
Wind power is consistently rated in opinion polls as among the most popular forms of energy, yet individual wind farms can meet strong opposition from their host communities. What explains this gap, and what are the factors that influence these attitudes?
A new Berkeley Lab report attempts to get answers by reviewing three decades of research on community acceptance of wind energy in North America. 
In the early days of U.S. wind power, opposition and negative attitudes dismayed the industry, which expected local acceptance to be consistent with the favorable opinions toward wind power generally. The rapid growth of wind energy in recent years has increased its footprint, bringing the issue of community acceptance to the forefront. Cooperation between wind development actors and those in the host communities is critical to successful deployment processes, and therefore understanding local attitudes and factors driving acceptance and opposition is an essential first step.
Academic research on community acceptance of wind energy is as old as the first experimental wind farms, installed in California in the 1980s. The quantity, breadth, and depth of this research have increased considerably over the past three decades. An in-depth review of this literature reveals the following lessons learned:
  • North American support for wind has generally been consistently high.
  • Branding local opposition as "NIMBY" (not in my back yard) does little to explain the reasons behind the opposition.
  • The socioeconomic impacts of wind development, both positive and negative, strongly influence acceptance.
  • Sound and visual impacts of both existing and proposed wind facilities may lead to annoyance and opposition, and ignoring these concerns can exacerbate conflict.
  • Environmental concerns matter (though less than socioeconomic, sound, or visual concerns), and environmental justifications are cited by both wind project supporters and opponents.
  • Attitudes toward wind projects are strongly influenced by the perceived fairness of the planning process; a more participatory, collaborative planning process may promote more positive outcomes.
  • Distance from turbines affects other explanatory variables, but alone its influence is unclear.
  • Viewing opposition as something to be overcome- rather than attempting to understand and mitigate the concerns voiced by opposing parties- prevents meaningful understandings and implementation of best practices.
  • Translating wind energy acceptance research findings into practice has been limited.
The report has also been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Energy Research and Social Science. The journal article version is available for free at this link until July 14, 2017.
We appreciate the support of the U.S. Department of Energy Wind Energy Technologies Office in making this work possible. This work is part of a broader, survey-based research effort to understand attitudes toward existing U.S. wind facilities and the factors that influence those attitudes.