The article below was Published April 2011 in Environmental Leader Magazine.
An industry that is often affected by local opposition in the United States is that of wind energy development. But why? It seems odd that businesses that attempt to bring clean energy and preserve the environment are frequently faced with disapproval from local communities. We talk about the necessary changes in our lifestyles in order to save the planet, yet when a practical solution is proposed we often seem to be against it. Why do people support clean energy in theory yet fight against wind farm development?
The answer lies in physical proximity. It has been suggested that any social opposition to a development stems from self-preservation. Communities try to reject anything that may be seemingly dangerous to their health, lifestyle, and even their community vibe. As expected, most people support the initiative of clean renewable energy, as long as it doesn’t affect them personally. If you were to ask ten Americans on the street about the issue, it’s likely that most would tell you they support the idea but wouldn’t want a wind farm in their backyard.
When a wind energy developer proposes a site for a wind farm, he has to be prepared to face opposition from the local community. It may be just a bump on the road or a serious obstacle that threatens the project. Either way, he has to anticipate the possibility of this problem. In order to properly assess the situation and create a strategic grassroots campaign, the developer needs to understand the origins and reasoning of this opposition.
Here are some of the most common issues wind energy developers have to address.
Traffic, pollution and noise during construction
Usually, communities fear that the construction of a wind farm would create unbearable levels of noise and pollution. Chances are most people don’t know the processes involved and the technology used in the assembly of a wind farm. Therefore, it is crucial for a public affairs campaign to create and deliver a clear message about how the inconveniences, if any, caused by the construction would be minimized. Increased traffic, especially with the presence of heavy trucks, cranes and other machinery, is another concern.
Presenting the public with a successful plan of traffic management could reduce the antagonisms and questions toward the project.
Noise from turbines
Every single wind farm constructed in the U.S. has had to address the issue of noise created by the working turbines. Most people fear medical dangers associated with such noise. Various groups that oppose wind energy development claim that headaches, sleep disorders, problems with equilibrium, and even night terrors can be results of living near a wind farm. Therefore, the developers need to present the community with data, statistics and studies that reassure the safety of residents and the project. The government regulations regarding the noise limitations can also be used toward the project’s advantage.
Endangered wild life
Every community faced with a proposed wind farm has had legitimate concerns about the effects on the regional wild life. People fear the indefinite dangers posed by a working wind farm to inhabitants of both above and below ground. A developer’s solution should be to showcase that they care about preserving and protecting the natural habitat of the area. Presenting the public with environmental studies, regulations protocols and other ecological data that ensure the safety of the wild life would be a good way to start.
While some may enjoy the calm and serene views of wind turbines, unfortunately, many people find them to be unappealing. For instance, one of the biggest concerns from local Massachusetts residents with the Cape Cod wind development was that the offshore turbines would obstruct their scenic ocean views. The landscape is always a big part of a community’s lifestyle. In addition, it plays into the value of one’s property. People often fear the interference with their lifestyles and property depreciation as a result of neighboring a wind farm. In this case, the best strategy would be to stress the advantages of a wind farm to the environment and local economy.
It is important to stress how these benefits significantly outweigh the disadvantages.
The bottom line is that wind or any other renewable energy developer should educate their public. The idea of saving the planet by producing and consuming clean renewable energy seems to be appealing to most people. Unfortunately, nobody wants to ‘sacrifice’ their backyard. Therefore, it is necessary to make the public understand the immeasurable benefits to the environment of developing wind energy. We need to make the local communities realize that allowing a wind farm in their neighborhood is not in fact a sacrifice, but rather a step toward a better cleaner world.