Big Wind. Love it or Hate it, but don’t SPIN the facts!

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This week we received a notice of a study conducted by the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory entitled National Survey of Wind Power Project Neighbors.  While it is better than nothing, we believe it has significant drawbacks.   The study used 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, which were installed between 2004 and 2014.  This resulted in a sample of 1,289,478 possible households near 604 wind projects. The total number of turbines was 28,078 although in a footnote, the authors state that some of the turbines in the study might be further than five miles from a home.  The study cautions that its results may not be generalized to areas beyond the sample where turbines may be taller than 492 feet or larger than 3.1 MW. 

The Survey’s objectives were to explore:


  • What is the distribution of attitudes and annoyances of those living close to U.S. wind power projects, and what factors help explain those attitudes and annoyances? [Note: the survey mostly addresses projects not individual turbines.]
  • How are U.S. wind power project siting and planning processes perceived by community members, and what helps explain differences in those perceptions?
  • How well do modeled sound levels from U.S. wind power projects predict respondent levels of audibility and annoyance to those sounds, and what additional factors help explain those levels? [Does not include infrasound which we believe should be included as its has different properties than audible sound. The recent Australian Tribunal confirms this.]
  • What percentages of individuals living near U.S. wind power projects are “strongly” annoyed—reporting symptoms caused by turbine sounds, shadow flicker, or visual effects—and what factors help explain those percentages?
  • Is there evidence that communities’ attitudes change over time as residents move in and out of the area near U.S. wind power projects?
  • How does hosting a turbine(s) and/or being compensated by the wind power project owner influence attitudes, annoyances, and perceptions of the planning process? [We believe this is irrelevant because most leaseholders and those with good neighbor agreements are not permitted to complain and in some cases are required to be supportive.]
  • How do U.S. attitudes toward local wind power projects compare with those in Europe, and are there insights that can be drawn from any apparent differences? [Distribution of European populations is often different than in the U.S.]


Our first observation is that the attitudes of people who live within ½ to 1 mile of a turbine are totally diluted by including them in a population sample of people who live five miles away from a wind “project”.  Second, the authors undertook the study because they acknowledge methodological shortcomings in previous studies.  With respect to noise modeling, the survey looks at areas where estimates of A-weighted sound levels were used.  There have been repeated reports that state A-weighted sound levels are the least effective way to measure wind turbine sound. 


When asked about their attitude toward the local wind turbine project, those who lived within ½ mile were very negative (13%), negative (12%), neutral (24%), positive (27%) and very positive (23%).  There is no way of telling how many of these respondents were leaseholders or had Good Neighbor Agreements but the authors do state that there is a correlation between attitude and compensation.  Notwithstanding, a conservative interpretation of these numbers are that at least 25% of those living within a half a mile of a turbine viewed them negatively. 


The study also explored whether people perceived the planning process to be fair.  The most important component in this assessment was “developer transparency and openness” as well as the “ability of the community or individual to influence the outcome of the project.    Given the nearly universal experience of communities finding the developer signed up unsuspecting people by secretively traveling around the community using a local person as a “trusted” agent, we do not think anyone in Ohio would perceive the planning process to be fair.  Moreover, the indifference of the Ohio Power Siting Board to local governments and residents, practically guarantees that no Ohioan would find the process to be fair.


Given the above, we believe this is a strong argument for LOCAL CONTROL at the impacted township level.  Looking at attitudes beyond the three mile distance from the wind project shows a very different response.  People are either neutral or supportive because the project does not affect them.  The wind industry is currently trying to convince legislators that ALL voters in unincorporated areas of ALL townships in the county should be given the right to vote on projects/setbacks.   This study clearly shows the nearby population and the more distant population are entirely different and that the distant population’s attitudes could override the desires of the people living within a mile of wind turbines.  This is an important point to understand. The wind developers are banking on the General Assembly to not understand this.


In regard to annoyance from noise, the survey asked “Have you ever heard sound from the wind power project?”  The result reported is:


“Not surprisingly, respondents who were closer to a turbine more frequently reported hearing project sounds than those who were farther away.”  Of all respondents living within 5 miles, 84% reported not hearing sound, and 16% reported hearing sound. When the sample is limited to those living within 1 mile, 44% reported not hearing sound, and 56% reported hearing sound. And, of those living just within 0.5 miles, 19% reported not hearing sound, and 81% reported hearing sound.   Remember, the study did not assess infrasound nor was the sensation of vibration inside the home evaluated.


Given that the population studied was within 5 miles of the wind project, the percentage of those who reported hearing sound was only 16% .   Of those who did hear sound, 15% were somewhat annoyed,  5% were moderately annoyed and 18% were very annoyed.   This gets further watered down by statistical manipulation to demonstrate that only 5.6% of all the survey respondents are somewhat, moderately or very annoyed.


For those living within ½ mile of a turbine and who reported hearing sound, 43% claim not to be annoyed at all and 19% only slightly.  These are likely to be leaseholders and those with good neighbor agreements.  Those who reported being annoyed were 6% somewhat; 11% moderately and 20% very annoyed. “Thus 30% of all respondents who lived within ½ mile of a turbine reported being somewhat, moderately or very annoyed by the audible sound.”


The study goes on to try to understand if there are other factors that impact the rates of  annoyance.  In a “eureka moment” for the researchers, they found that being compensated could improve the feeling of annoyance.   Earth to researchers:  leaseholders are not going to be reliable indicators and most non-participating landowners could never be paid enough to overlook the adverse impacts of wind turbines.


Turning to the “strongly annoyed” population,  “Individuals who reported being very, moderately, or somewhat annoyed and reported regular (at least monthly) health-related symptoms, which they attribute to turbines, were classified as “strongly annoyed” on an annoyance stress scale. Symptoms include “being in a bad mood,” “anger,” “lack of concentration,” “difficulty falling asleep,” and “otherwise not sleeping well.” For these statistics, the sample was limited to those within 3 miles of a turbine, to conform to samples drawn from Europe, to which these data were compared. Of respondents living within 3 miles of a turbine, 2.3% qualified as strongly annoyed. When the results are broken down by reported source of annoyance, 1.1% of respondents living within 3 miles of a turbine were strongly annoyed because of sound, 1.5% because of landscape change, 1.2% because of lighting, and 0.2% because of shadow flicker.”  These figures seem rather meaningless and we believe they probably mask the real picture of how many living with ½ mile report health-related symptoms.

 With all of its shortcomings, the study is an affirmation that the placement of wind turbines less than ½ mile (2,640 feet) from your property line will almost guarantee 25% of your community will be annoyed and a number of them will suffer adverse health effects. Study it, the next neighbor could be you…

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted a survey of people living near wind turbines. 12019/Pixabay

A new national lab study is upending common assumptions about U.S. wind power, including that “not in my backyard” fights drive opposition and that people living closest to turbines don’t like them.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released preliminary results last week of the first national survey of residents living within 5 miles or less of utility-scale wind. The three-year analysis documents factors driving small pockets of wind opposition that often counter conventional wisdom…

The researchers did not provide specific recommendations, although they said the information could help developers with planning to minimize challenges.

“We hope we have laid down a foundation from which wind stakeholders can build as they consider future wind developments,” said Ben Hoen, a LBNL research scientist and the study’s lead author…

The study documents majority support for turbines. Fifty-seven percent of respondents living within 5 miles of turbines had a “very positive” or “positive” view of them. When the distance was less than half a mile, the negatives went up, although 50 percent still said they were positive or very positive…

via RENEWABLE ENERGY: Lab probes Americans love-hate relationship with wind — Monday, January 29, 2018 — E&E News — Start a free trial