Western University wind turbine study cuts through rhetoric

A new study from Western University researchers probes beyond pro- and anti-wind turbine rhetoric to better understand community dynamics in regards to turbine placement.

Published in the journal Environment and Planning A (www.envplan.com/abstract.cgi?id=a130004p), the study by Jamie Baxter and Chad Walker in Western’s Department of Geography titled, “Beyond rhetoric to understanding determinants of wind turbine support and conflict in two Ontario, Canada communities” examines data collected in Port Burwell and Clear Creek, Ontario.

“Though a majority of residents support the turbines, this study focuses on how that majority interacts with those perceiving negative impacts, particularly related to health,” says Baxter.

He says the findings, gleaned from 26 face-to-face interviews and 152 questionnaires, point to the need for greater attention to mitigating conflict by understanding how siting policies interact with social processes at the local level.

“What distinguishes this study from our other published work on turbine communities is that we interviewed residents face-to-face and visited their homes to achieve a much more intimate understanding and feel for community dynamics,” says Baxter. “Bringing these interviews together with the survey, allowed us to determine if certain themes were present across these communities to help them and other communities reduce conflict and have more productive outcomes.”

These themes include the need to eliminate rhetoric, better understand the effects of proximity and density of turbines around homes and to better share the financial benefits of turbines with those who live with them daily.

“Governments and wind developers need to better understand the social dynamics of rural communities and avoid feeding into rhetoric that allows neighbours to ridicule concerned or impacted residents,” says Baxter. “Through our interviews with local residents we discovered that there is a willingness on both sides of the issue to listen to each other and work together, but that seems to be getting lost in a war of words.”

The study also found that residents experiencing a higher density of turbines, close to their homes are more likely to oppose the development.  Residents in Clear Creek looking out their windows are likely to see more turbines, larger turbines, and closer turbines than residents in Port Burwell.  In Clear Creek, homes average 6.8 turbines within 2km of their home, while in Port Burwell there are only 3.7 turbines. As such, 80% of residents in Port Burwell support turbines, compared to 63% in Clear Creek. Furthermore, only 3% of the Port Burwell sample claimed to experience health impacts they attribute to the turbines while 22% reported such health impacts in Clear Creek.

Findings also point to a need for better allocation of financial benefits to those closest to the turbines who bear the negative impacts.

“Those who benefit financially are more likely to accept these developments, but neighbouring residents have been reluctant to ask for these benefits lest they be accused of gold-digging,” says Baxter. “We need to more seriously consider alternatives for neighbours of landowners who lease to wind turbine developers as they typically get nothing, while the landowner with the turbine receives thousands of dollars per year. Addressing this discrepancy could drastically change how these developments are received in these communities.”

Baxter’s team is continuing to research new ways to improve the siting process and distribution of benefits in wind turbine communities. More information on their research is available at https://coarep.uwo.ca.

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephen Ledgley, Senior Media Relations Officer, 519-661-2111, ext. 85283, sledgley@uwo.ca

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