UM study: How communities handle wind energy can increase negative views

Feb 10, 2019
Originally published on February 11, 2019 9:32 am

A University of Michigan researcher says people have more negative views of wind turbines if communities fail to be open and transparent when considering wind energy projects.

Sarah Mills is a senior project manager at the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at UM's Ford School of Public Policy. She and her colleagues quizzed people in Michigan communities considering wind energy projects.

For the study, a 2014 survey was sent to 1,000 residents across nine townships in Michigan with wind turbines to gauge their perceptions about impacts of wind energy. The same respondents were surveyed again in 2016 and asked the same questions to see how their perceptions had changed two years later.

Mills says the projects often reveal tensions in rural areas.

“We have farmers … next to small vacation spots” says Mills. “We often see tensions between those two kinds of groups because they view the landscape for very different purposes.”

Mills and her colleagues found that, on average, attitudes stayed roughly the same. Most residents agreed that wind turbines create jobs and provide revenue to landowners, while most disagreed — on both surveys — that wind turbines cause health problems or create noise pollution.

She says if residents feel that their voices are ignored, their perceptions of wind turbines become more negative over time.

According to the study, landowners who felt negatively about the wind-farm planning process perceived far greater negative impacts in 2016 than they did in 2014. This group reported the most dramatic increases in negative perceptions across the study, and across all turbine impacts, including visual and noise problems, reduction of nearby property values, and human health problems.

The study is published in the journal Land Use Policy. The study is was supported by a U-M Dow Doctoral Sustainability Fellowship and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in Flint, Michigan.

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