Background and Motivation
The installed wind power capacity in the United States through the end of 2016 was capable of supplying approximately 6.2% of the nation’s electricity demand from about 60,000 utility-scale turbines (Wiser & Bolinger, 2017).1 Through 2015, almost 1.4 million homes were within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of a U.S. utility-scale wind power project, and each year in the preceding 10 years, turbines placed in large projects (projects with more than 60 turbines) were closer to homes at a rate of approximately 150 feet (46 meters) per year on average.2
Experts predict continued reductions in the cost of wind energy (Wiser et al., 2017) and additional wind project deployment in the years ahead (Mai et al. 2017). Achieving this continued deployment will require coordination and cooperation with the communities and community members in which the wind power projects will be located, including local authorities, citizens, landowners, businesses, and non-governmental organizations. These individuals and organizations often look to other communities with wind power projects to understand the potential costs and benefits of moving forward with such a project.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy funded Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to lead a 4-year project collecting data from a broad-based and representative sample of individuals living near U.S. wind power projects. The aim was to widen the understanding of how U.S. communities are reacting to the deployment of wind turbines, and to provide insights to those communities considering wind projects. Berkeley Lab led this research in collaboration with University of Delaware, Portland State University, the Medical School or Hamburg (Germany), RSG Inc., and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Resulting Journal Papers
The results from this project are contained in five separate papers. Click on the headings below for paper abstracts, citations, and a download link.
Thirty years of North American research on public acceptance of wind power projects has produced important insights, yet knowledge gaps remain. This review synthesizes the literature, revealing the following lessons learned. (1) North American support for wind power has been consistently high. (2) The NIMBY (not in my backyard) explanation for resistance to wind power development is invalid. (3) Socioeconomic impacts of wind power development are strongly tied to acceptance. (4) Sound and visual impacts of wind power projects are strongly tied to annoyance and opposition, and ignoring these concerns can exacerbate conflict. (5) Environmental concerns matter, though less than other factors, and these concerns can both help and hinder wind power development. (6) Issues of fairness, participation, and trust during the development process influence acceptance. (7) Distance from turbines affects other explanatory variables, but alone its influence is unclear. (8) Viewing opposition as something to be overcome prevents meaningful understanding and implementation of best practices. (9) Implementation of research findings into practice has been limited. The paper also identifies areas for future research on wind power project acceptance. With continued research efforts and a commitment toward implementing research findings into developer and policymaker practice, conflict and perceived injustices around proposed and existing wind power projects might be significantly lessened.
Rand, Joseph, and Ben Hoen. "Thirty years of North American wind energy acceptance research: What have we learned?" Energy Research & Social Science 29.July 2017 (2017) 135-148.
Experts predict continuing deployment of wind turbines in the United States, which will create more interactions between turbines and surrounding communities. Policymakers can benefit from analyses of existing wind projects that enable them to better understand likely effects on residents around proposed projects. Our analysis of a randomly drawn, representative national survey of 1705 existing U.S. wind project neighbors provides previously unavailable detail about factors influencing the attitudes of these neighbors toward their local wind projects. Overall, we find positive-leaning attitudes, which improve over time as individuals self-select into communities near existing wind projects. Hearing wind turbines leads to less-positive attitudes, although living very near to turbines does not, nor does seeing wind turbines. In fact, our findings suggest complex relationships among nearby residents’ attitudes, their perceptions about the particular fit of turbines within their landscape and community, and their perceptions of wind project impacts on property values. These findings—along with the positive correlation between perceived planning-process fairness and attitude—suggest areas of focus for wind project development that may influence social outcomes and acceptance of wind energy. The concluding discussion provides a number of policy and future research recommendations based on the research
Hoen, Ben, Jeremy Firestone, Joseph Rand, Debi Elliott, Gundula Hübner, Johannes Pohl, Ryan H Wiser, Eric Lantz, Ryan Haac, and Ken Kaliski. "Attitudes of U.S. Wind Turbine Neighbors: Analysis of a Nationwide Survey." Energy Policy 134 (2019).
In 2016, we undertook a nationally representative wind power perceptions survey of individuals living within 8 km of over 600 projects in the United States, generating 1705 telephone, web, and mail responses. We sought information on a variety of topics, including procedural fairness and its relationship to project attitude, the foci of the present analysis. We present a series of descriptive statistics and regression results, emphasizing those residents who were aware of their local project prior to construction. Sample weighting is employed to account for stratification and nonresponse. We find that a developer being open and transparent, a community being able to influence the outcome, and having a say in the planning process are all statistically significant predictors of a process perceived as being ‘fair,’ with an open and transparent developer having the largest effect. We also find developer transparency and ability to influence outcomes to have statistically significant relationships to a more positive attitude, with those findings holding when aesthetics, landscape, and wind turbine sound considerations are controlled for. The results indicate that jurisdictions might consider developing procedures, which ensure citizens are consulted and heard, and benchmarks or best practices for developer interaction with communities and citizens
Firestone, Jeremy, Ben Hoen, Joseph Rand, Debi Elliott, Gundula Hübner, and Johannes Pohl. "Reconsidering Barriers to Wind Power Projects: Community Engagement, Developer Transparency and Place." Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning (2017) 1-17.
With results from a nationwide survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, factors that affect outdoor audibility and noise annoyance of wind turbines were evaluated. Wind turbine and summer daytime median background sound levels were estimated for 1043 respondents. Wind turbine sound level was the most robust predictor of audibility yet only a weak, albeit significant, predictor of noise annoyance. For each 1 dB increase in wind turbine sound level (L1h-max), the odds of hearing a wind turbine on one’s property increased by 31% [odds ratio (OR): 1.31; 95% CI (confidence interval): 1.25–1.38] and the odds of moving to the next level of annoyance increased by 9% (OR: 1.09; 95% CI: 1.02–1.16). While audibility was overwhelmingly dependent on turbine sound level, noise annoyance was best explained by visual disapproval (OR: 11.0; 95% CI: 4.8–25.4). The final models correctly predict audibility and annoyance level for 80% and 62% of individuals, respectively. The results demonstrate that among community members not receiving personal benefits from wind projects, the Community Tolerance Level of wind turbine noise for the U.S. aligns with the international average, further supporting observations that communities are less tolerant of wind turbine noise than other common environmental noise sources at equivalent A-weighted sound levels.
Haac, Ryan, Ken Kaliski, Matt Landis, Ben Hoen, Joseph Rand, Jeremy Firestone, Debi Elliott, Gundula Hübner, and Johannes Pohl. "Wind turbine audibility and noise annoyance in a national U.S. survey: Individual perception and influencing factors." The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 146.1124 (2019).
As wind turbines and the number of wind projects scale throughout the world, a growing number of individuals might be affected by these structures. For some people, wind turbine sounds and their effects on the landscape can be annoying and could even prompt stress reactions. This comparative study analyzed a combined sample of survey respondents from the U.S., Germany and Switzerland. It utilized a newly developed assessment scale (ASScale) to reliably characterize these stress-impacted individuals living within populations near turbines. Findings indicate low prevalence of annoyance, stress symptoms and coping strategies. Noise annoyance stress (NASScale) was negatively correlated with the perceptions of a lack of fairness of the wind project's planning and development process, among other subjective variables. Objective indicators, such as the distance from the nearest turbine and sound pressure level modeled for each respondent, were not found to be correlated to noise annoyance. Similar result patterns were found across the European and U.S. samples.
Hübner, Gundula, Johannes Pohl, Ben Hoen, Jeremy Firestone, Debi Elliott, Joseph Rand, and Ryan Haac. "Monitoring annoyance and stress effects of wind turbines on nearby residents: A comparison of U.S. and European samples." Environment International 132 (2019).
The moving shadows caused by wind turbines, referred to as “shadow flicker” (“SF”), are known to generate annoyance in a subset of the exposed population. However, the relationship between the level of modeled SF exposure and the population's perceived SF and SF annoyance is poorly understood. Improved understanding of SF exposure impacts could provide a basis for exposure thresholds and, in turn, potentially improve community acceptance of and experience with wind power projects.
This study modeled SF exposure at nearly 35,000 residences across 61 wind projects in the United States, 747 of which were also survey respondents. Using these results, we analyzed the factors that led to perceived SF and self-reported SF annoyance. We found that perceived SF is primarily an objective response to SF exposure, distance to the closest turbine, and whether the respondent moved in after the wind project was built. Conversely, SF annoyance was not significantly correlated with SF exposure. Rather, SF annoyance is primarily a subjective response to wind turbine aesthetics, annoyance to other anthropogenic sounds, level of education, and age of the respondent.
We also examined regulations governing SF in the sample project areas and compared them to SF exposure in the surrounding population. Additionally, we found that noise limits could serve as a proxy for SF exposure, as 90% of those exposed to wind turbine sound of no more than 45 dBA L1h had SF exposure of less than 8 h per year (a prototypical EU regulatory threshold).
Haac, Ryan, Ryan Darlow, Ken Kaliski, Joseph Rand, and Ben Hoen. "In the shadow of wind energy: Predicting community exposure and annoyance to wind turbine shadow flicker in the United States." Energy Research & Social Science 87 (2022).