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Overcoming Public Resistance to New Wind Farms

written by: Cora Wilder•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 7/2/2013

Although wind power offers a legitimate renewable energy source, it is not without it's drawbacks. Those who live near wind farms have several complaints, causing obstacles for developers. Overcoming resistance depends on community involvement and adequately addressing fears.

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    Wind Farms & Public Resistance

    Wind power is an appealing renewable energy source because it does not produce carbon dioxide and, unlike solar energy, is available day and night. Wind farms abound in Europe, and more are popping up in the United States. However, not everyone is excited about wind power. People living near proposed wind farm sites have legitimate concerns and it is up to developers to address those concerns. With proper implementation and cooperation with the community, wind farms can be positive developments for everyone involved.

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    Common Complaints

    Wind turbine noise creates problems for developers and communities The most common complaint about wind farms is noise, but other complaints include blade flicker (glare reflecting off the spinning turbine blades) spoiling the view, and decreased property values. Ideally, wind farms will add value to nearby residents by reducing energy bills. However, sometimes the farms can have negative effects on property value, due to unresolved noise issues and visual disruption of the landscape. In the case of a wind farm near Deeping St Nicholas, Scotland, a home within 1000 yards of a turbine lost thousands of Euros in value due to noise pollution.

    Some complaints may come from individuals who hold negative feelings toward wind power for other reasons. Other complaints come from people who were initially enthusiastic about a wind farm project in their community, only to confront unanticipated issues after project completion.

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    Wind Turbine Noise Levels

    Noise from wind turbines can cause severe annoyance, but some victims also report health issues that they attribute to the noise, including anxiety, stress, difficulty sleeping, and nausea. A 2009 study headed by Dr. Nina Pierpont identifies an emerging health risk associated with wind turbines: wind turbine syndrome (WTS). Whether or not WTS is real is debatable, but to many sufferers it is all too real.

    Residents report that the noise from a turbine sounds like “wump, wump, wump” and liken it to a helicopter hovering above. It is the pulsing nature of the sound more than the loudness that causes problems. States have noise level limits in decibels (dB) that wind farms must abide by, but local communities often have more strict limits. Limits are usually about 45 dB at night and 55 dB in the daytime. However, low frequency sounds may not be audible, but the vibrations affect people nonetheless. Low frequency sound waves travel farther than higher frequency sounds and in all directions- recall the vibrations emitting from a car with the bass cranked up.

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    Noise Complaints

    The way noise carries through the air is often unpredictable. It might be barely audible right beneath a turbine, yet a major annoyance hundreds of feet away. Noise also affects individuals differently. One person may react strongly to a sound while another hardly notices it. These inconsistencies may make it seem that those who complain are easily annoyed or super-sensitive. Indeed, people who are unhappy about wind turbines going up for other reasons– they won’t benefit financially from the wind farm, or it spoils their view– are more likely to find other complaints such as noise. Those who support their local wind farm project may be less likely to make complaints, but if the issue is severe enough, they will.

    Look at Vinalhaven, Maine. Residents of the island were united in their support of the wind farm project during the design and construction stage, but when it became operational, a few of the residents closer to the turbines found the noise much louder than they expected. These residents wanted the project to be a success, but the noise was unbearable and became a major problem for all involved. In Britain, the Askam wind farm faces similar problems with noise. In fact, one in six wind farms in the UK have noise complaints.

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    Overcoming Resistance

    It is one thing to support wind power in general; it is another to have it in your backyard. Consequently, wind power developers face public opposition for both perceived and legitimate reasons, all of which deserve attention. Careful planning and community involvement can reduce opposition, get community members on board initially, and keep them happy once the wind farm is operational.

    One of the best ways to minimize public resistance to wind farms is community involvement. Residents are more likely to support a wind farm development when they understand the direct benefits to them personally, they have a hand in the planning, and the developer addresses their concerns thoroughly and transparently.

    Residents will be more enthusiastic about a wind farm project if they will benefit directly from it, so aligning the farm location with the service area is important. Also, when people have a say in the planning, they take ownership and will naturally become more supportive of the project.

    Finally, addressing concerns like noise and how the project will avoid problems seen in other developments will help maintain the community's support. As evidenced by Vinalhaven, Askam and Deeping St Nicholas, avoiding noise problems is often a matter of observing conservative setbacks and noise thresholds.

    Maintaining the support of the community is important for the future of wind power, especially in the early stages of infrastructure development, in order to pave the way for future projects. Wind power developers face public opposition for both perceived and legitimate reasons. Careful planning and community involvement can reduce opposition, get community members on board initially, and keep them happy once the farm is in operation.

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