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Case study 2: Living close to wind energy

In this article, Dr Karen Parkhill will discuss what people think about proposed wind farm developments close to them.
Photo of wind turbines near to houses
© University of York
Wind energy – both onshore and offshore – still has significant support in national surveys. However, as outlined in a previous step, there can also be vociferous local opposition to proposed developments. So what do people think about wind energy?
Onshore Wind
Research has shown that publics in support of onshore wind energy perceive it as clean, allowing us to shift away fro fossil fuels, inherently a good thing, facilitating a shift to a sustainable future, and symbolically representing society as being in sync with nature.
Whilst other research has show that those in opposition to wind energy hold this view due to a variety of reasons:
  • The placement of it in a rural area is resented given the energy is perceived as being needed in urban areas.
  • Wind turbines are sometimes viewed as ugly and leading to the spoiling of a view.
  • Some are concerned that the wind farm may lead to damage for the tourist industry nearby.
  • Some are worried about the cumulative impact, that the current development may set a precedent to other wind farms being developed in the area and when you combine the impacts of these …
  • Some reject wind energy based on concerns for the environment (e.g. impacts on landscapes, birds and other flora and fauna).
  • Others perceived that big developers and corporations are parrachuting into the area and imposing something upon them.
  • And some do not object the proposed development per se, but may feel excluded or marginalised through not being engaged or excluded from the development process.
For others, perceptions of wind farms mix with their perceptions of places and spaces leading to both opposition and support for proposed developments. For some, they may view their area as being in an economic decline and the proposed development may be perceived as helping to boost the local economy. For others, they may see the wind farm as adding a feature to what is perceived as a desolate landscape. Yet others may see a proposed wind farm as turning an unproductive unusable space into one which has meaning and purpose. However, those in opposition may view the wind farm as a transgression going against what they think this place is about – as was outlined earlier (e.g. the industrialisation of rural areas).
Research shows that once the wind farm is built, most people view it positively due to it having become a familiar feature of the landscape.
Offshore wind
Some people perceived offshore wind as good in and of itself and the fix to the objections against onshore wind. However, research has shown that many of the issues that have plagued onshore wind, are just as relevant to public attitudes against offshore wind. For example:
  • The risks are still perceived as being localised whilst the benefits (e.g. helping with climate change) are more dispersed.
  • Many offshore wind farms are actually nearshore and are thus in view of many people. Furthermore, marine environments are structureless environments, and so for some people, the turbines are more noticeable.
  • Some people are concerned about the environmental and ecological impact on both birds and marine flora and fauna.
  • Given that many coastal areas are tourist destinations, some people are highly concerned that the tourist industry might be negatively impacted.
  • And some people feel that they are excluded and marginalised during the process by which the development is introduced to the community.
As such the reasons for supporting and opposing offshore wind energy are very similar to those for supporting or opposing onshore wind.
Clearly though, peoples perceptions of place and space, the technology and the process by which the development is introduced to the local community, all play a significant role in whether ultimately, people support or oppose a particular development. There is also some indication that different ownership models (e.g. community owned wind energy) is viewed more positively than commercial ownership.
© University of York
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