National Survey of Attitudes of Wind Power Project Neighbors

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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.

Project Results

Click on the headings below for detailed results from these analyses, which are compiled into five topics: 

Review of 30 Years of North America Wind Power Project Acceptance Literature

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.

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Overall Analysis of Attitudes of 1,700 Wind Power Project Neighbors

Roughly 1.4 million households were estimated to be within 5 miles of an existing utility-scale wind turbine as of 2015, and that number will continue to grow as more wind turbines are deployed. Moreover, there is evidence in the U.S. that larger wind projects (> 60 turbines) are being built increasingly closer to homes on average. Despite these trends, there has not been a careful broad-based representative analysis of the attitudes of wind project “neighbors” to date in the U.S., nor at the population level in any country. In 2015 and 2016, LBNL with a team of collaborators, collected data from 1,705 randomly drawn individuals living within 5 miles of all U.S. wind projects, with oversampling being done within 1 mile. The findings indicate an overall positive attitude toward the nearby turbines, including for those living even as close as ½ mile. Roughly 8% of the population had negative attitudes within 5 miles. In an examination of a broad set of possible correlates to attitudes, it was found that neither demographic nor local wind project characteristics were significantly related. Attitudes were significantly correlated with compensation, sensory perceptions of the nearby turbines, planning process perceptions, and attitudes toward wind turbines in general. It was also found that individuals moving into the area after wind project construction were significantly more positive than those already in the community, implying that more supportive individuals might be self-selecting into the community. 

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Wind Power Project Planning Process Fairness and Attitudes

This paper focuses on procedural fairness and its relationship to respondents’ attitude toward their local wind power project. A series of descriptive statistics and regression results is presented, emphasizing those residents who were aware of their local project prior to its construction. We find that a developer being open and transparent, a community being able to influence the project outcome, and individuals having a say in the planning process are all statistically significant predictors of a process being perceived as “fair,” with an open and transparent developer having the largest effect. We also find developer transparency and ability to influence the outcome (e.g., number and location of wind turbines) 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 that ensure citizens are consulted and heard, while instituting benchmarks or best practices for developer interaction with communities and citizens. 

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Predicting Audibility Of and Annoyance To Wind Power Project Sounds Using Modeled Sound

As part of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s national cross-sectional study of individuals who live within 5 miles of a modern, utility-scale wind turbine, 15 wind power projects were selected as case studies and over-sampled. The same 15 wind power projects were modeled to estimate the sound levels at each respondent’s home. Also, a representation of background sound level for each respondent was extracted from a national dataset. Statistical analyses were conducted to estimate the acoustical contributions to one’s propensity for annoyance, and how these were affected by non-acoustic factors (e.g., project compensation, prior attitude toward the project, visibility, etc.). The results demonstrate that considering the interaction of a project’s modeled sound levels and the existing background sound levels improves the prediction of reported wind turbine audibility over only using modeled sound levels. Additionally, the sound-level drivers (modeled wind turbine sound level and background sound level) are poor predictors of very annoyed responses; one’s prior support for or opposition to a local project is the strongest predictor of very annoyed responses in the regression model. 

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Comparing Strongly Annoyed Individuals with Symptoms near U.S. Turbines to Those in Surveyed European Communities

In this research, we investigate individuals who are “strongly” annoyed and compare results between this U.S. study and other studies in Europe, to examine differences and correlates. Strongly annoyed respondents are individuals who are very, moderately or somewhat annoyed and report having symptoms. The symptoms include “being in a bad mood,” “anger,” “lack of concentration,” “difficulty falling asleep,” and “otherwise not sleeping well”, which must have a frequency of at least monthly and be attributed to the turbines. This “strongly annoyed” group is compared to four other groups: cannot hear the turbines, not at all annoyed by sound, slightly annoyed, and somewhat annoyed (i.e., annoyed without symptoms). Compared to the other groups, strongly annoyed individuals have more negative attitudes toward the local wind project, and more chronic health problems (not related to the wind turbines). They are less satisfied with the planning process and more annoyed by it. They live near larger wind projects. The strongest predictors, when combining them in a regression, are “present attitude toward the local wind project” and “annoyed by planning process”. Distance from the nearest turbine, A-weighted sound levels (dBA), and stated noise sensitivity are not correlated. A similar mean level of annoyance to sound is found in European results. In the U.S. sample, the mean levels of annoyance to lighting, shadow flicker, and landscape change are similar but slightly lower than in the European sample. Comparable result patterns for the U.S. support the reliability of our findings. 

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Webinar Series

A Berkeley Lab 4-part webinar series, Understanding Wind Project Neighbors through a National Survey of Attitudes, covering four of the five projects shown above was held in early 2018.  Links to recordings of each of those webinars are below:

Overall Analysis of Attitudes of 1,700 Wind Power Project Neighbors  (January 30th, 2018)

Wind Power Project Planning Process Fairness and Attitudes (February 13th, 2018)

Predicting Audibility Of and Annoyance to Wind Power Project Sounds Using Modeled Sound (February 27th, 2018)

Comparing Strongly Annoyed Individuals with Symptoms near U.S. Turbines to Those in Surveyed European Communities  (March 13, 2018)

Data Availability

A version of the analysis dataset with no personally identifiable information is available to other researchers by filling out this request form. A copy of the codebook for those data is available here and a copy of the mail survey instrument is available here

If you wish to use the data please cite them as follows:

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (2018) National Survey of Attitudes of Wind Power Project Neighbors Data [Retrieved <add date here>]

More Information

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Some of the approximately 60,000 turbines are now more than 15 years old and small, in terms of total height and nameplate capacity, compared with the turbines currently being installed.
To determine this, we use a dataset of 1.29 million homes within 5 miles of all U.S. wind projects with turbines larger than 364 feet and 1.5 MW (n = 29,848 turbines across 604 projects), which were installed between 2004 and 2014. We regress distance to the nearest home from any turbine in the project on year of installation, finding each year during this period, on average, turbines were approximately 150 feet (46 meters) closer to homes (p-value = 0.000).