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Consensus-building on wind farm siting

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines Add comments

This is somewhat old news, but I just heard about this workshop (thanks to Kathy Hemenway), and it’s full of useful insights: in March, the Consensus Building Institute brought together 100 wind farm developers, environmentalists, state regulators, and technical experts, including proponents and opponents of wind energy, to spend three days discussing what works – and more importantly, what doesn’t work – as communities seek to make informed and effective decisions about wind farm siting.

The quick list of take-aways posted by organizer Larry Suskind on his blog include reminders that there are hundreds of wind farms in the US that can be instructive as we plan new ones, and that it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to get behind ANY project.  Several of his bullet points sound like things that could really help reduce the perceived lack of respect for community concerns that often colors local proceedings, and so reduce the fear and resistance that accompany many wind farm proposals:

  • Don’t let wind developers proceed without discussing how turbine operations might have to be restricted to reduce the risk to wildlife and the annoyance to neighbors.
  • Do promise to compensate anyone who lives near a proposed facility for any decline in property values that might occur. (It is possible to buy “property value insurance” to make 100% sure that no one suffers any loss of property value.)
  • Do realize that everyone reacts differently to noise and visual impacts.

And, in his most far-reaching observation, Suskind stresses the need to “Avoid the dueling experts syndrome that is so common when cases go to court.”  From the outset, he says:

It’s very clear that the traditional “town meeting” or “hearings” approach to energy facility siting is useless. Nobody learns anything at raucous public meetings…..Professionally facilitated stakeholder engagement (involving representatives chosen by the stakeholder groups themselves) can create a level playing field in which informal problem-solving is possible. This all has to be completely open and accountable.

Interesting stuff! And here’s a long blog post from one of the participants, including links to most of the Powerpoints and a lot of audio from the three days.


2 Responses to “Consensus-building on wind farm siting”

  1. C. McLean Says:

    I am willing to bet that if a proper enquiry into existing industrial wind projects was made, asking if residents (non-lessees) were happy with the projects surrounding them, the wind industry would get a resounding NO! From my own experience in living within a project, many do not complain about their loss of property values, their health complaints nor loss of general amenity to their property, simply because they feel it is futile to fight a large,financially disposed industry that are mandated by gov’t policy to exist. If gov’t officials were truly cognisant of the issues surrounding wind energy, and practised proper due diligence, with a full cost benefit analysis, industrial wind projects would not exist.

  2. aeinews Says:

    This is something I’ve wondered about a lot. Why do we still have only the “big 3” studies from Scandinavia (done starting a decade ago, around wind farms with much smaller turbines than today’s norm) to rely on when we want to examine “community response rates” or levels of annoyance around wind farms? Granted, these are studies that keep on giving, with their data offering gristy tidbits for all sides of the debate! I’ve seen two other, more informal surveys, one in the Forward/Blue Sky area of Wisconsin, one from an early windfarm in upper Michigan, I think. Both of these also suggest high negative responses from those within a half mile to mile, but they aren’t designed in a way that affirms they are a representative sample (though one had about a 50% response rate as i recall, pretty darn good as these things go, and definitely included some lessees).

    This is something that’s desperately needed. I’d be especially interested to see at about what distance the “resounding NO” begins to fade. Some in the Forward/Blue Sky area have told me that they thought if the turbines were all over a half mile away they’d be much better off; others there say a mile. Even they, though, speak only in their imaginations of what it would be like without several within a third of a mile to a mile. Much more reliable would be actual people who’ve actually lived, say, three quarters of a mile from the closest turbine, with, say, three others also within a mile and a quarter. Where are they on the 5-point annoyance scale? Would it be a nice steady curve of how many feel their quality of life has dropped significantly?: three quarters of non-lessees within a third of a mile, half of those between a third and half mile, a third of those between half and three quarters of a mile, 20% of those between three quarters and a mile? And if we DID get a neat, simple picture like this, what would we do with it? Where would communities draw the line?

    Such a study should definitely look both at distance to the closest turbine, and total number of turbines within some set distance, such as a mile or mile and a quarter. Some level of ground-truthing of noise levels would be good, but probably would complicate the whole study a lot, though (since sound levels do vary so much). Simply looking at setbacks would be much simpler, and would lead to easier-to-apply standards, though would be open to criticism because it ignores that distances alone aren’t reliable indicators of sound in different landscapes and wind directions. But then, I suppose any policy or science does always need to simplify things to some degree in order to be workable or doable.