Turbines accepted after construction
Since the world’s first wind farm was installed in New Hampshire in 1980, there has been a lot of research done into the public acceptance of wind projects around the world. Some interesting information comes from projects here in New England.
In Searsburg, Vt., public acceptance surveys were done on a wind farm before it was installed and afterwards. Before the project was built, surveys showed that approximately 30 percent of respondents were big supporters of wind power, 36 percent were moderate supporters, and 35 percent were non-supporters. That’s about 2-1 in favor.
After the 11-turbine wind farm had been built and was operating, the second survey showed that 52 percent of the respondents were big supporters, 31 percent were moderate, and 17 percent were non-supporters. That’s about 5-1 in favor. About half of the nonsupporters became supporters. Here’s what the report said about these results:
“Clearly, a large portion of this positive shift is based on the respondents’ assessment of the completed project rather than the expectations they had prior to construction. As one person wrote, ‘I think once the turbines were up that people’s initial doubts or fears lessened. There is nothing like seeing them in the flesh. Anyone I’ve talked to thinks they’re great.’ People seem appreciative of Green Mountain Power’s efforts to explain the project and what possible impacts it would have on them.”
Another lesson in public acceptance comes from two municipal projects. In Hull, Mass., a townowned wind turbine was saving the town money on its electric bill. When the municipality asked residents if it should install a second turbine, 95 percent of the respondents said they would.
Similarly, on Vinalhaven Island in Maine, a municipal threeturbine wind farm was proposed that would save residents money and provide a hedge against future price increases. The vote was 382 in favor and five against. (That 99 percent acceptance figure subsequently dropped to 95 percent after the project was up.)
The lesson from these municipal projects is that people like to see local benefit. If the local benefit is clear, support is extraordinarily high.
Looking outside New England, I found an interesting piece on public acceptance of wind power from a European website. It said that the three key factors to public acceptance are:
• The physical, technical and environmental aspects of the project.
• Social factors in the hosting communities, such as knowledge, general attitudes or familiarity and benefits.
• Institutional elements during the planning process including the level of engagement and perceived fairness.
Jamestown appears to be doing a good job on these factors. The wind energy committee worked long and hard on its feasibility study clearly laying out the pros and cons of various sites in a public process. Simulations of the turbines are on the town website and on YouTube. The Town Council has been scrutinizing the process closely and will insist on public benefit. The town administrator and staff have been carefully managing the process.
There are more turbines going up in Rhode Island all the time. (The Department of Environmental Management put a 100-kw turbine up at Fishermen’s Memorial State Park in October. Three large turbines are going up in Providence right now.) These operating turbines provide a good opportunity to learn more about the pros and cons of wind power on Jamestown. You can see for yourself if you have the same reaction as Vermonters. In the Searsburg executive summary, it said, “The most common reaction was a sense of ‘awe’ or express ‘amazement,’ while others find the rotating turbines ‘calming.’ For some the experience was ‘almost spiritual.’”
If you would like to put your name on the list for a guided tour of the Portsmouth High School turbine, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is president of Endless Energy Corporation, a consultant chosen by the Town Council in December to conduct studies necessary to determine the costs and potential profitability of a Jamestown wind turbine.