Wind in Communities
As the wind industry matures, the planning and approvals process for installing wind turbines near residential areas has become more attuned to the concerns of locals.
In Canada and the United States, some large wind farms, especially those situated on private land, have aroused opposition. The frequently cited complaints include disturbance of environmentally-sensitive areas, negative impact on scenic vistas, and noise associated with the swishing sound of the blades. The landscape in many rural areas, especially those abutting sprawling urban regions, is routinely interrupted by man-made structures, including transmission towers, hydro corridors, billboards and the industrial structures on commercial farms.
Landscape architects and turbine designers have developed ways to reduce the intrusiveness of wind farms, suggesting ways to integrate them into rural landscapes rather than trying to hide their appearance. Wind turbines painted in muted tones and arranged in simple geometrical patterns tend to be less obtrusive. Some also point out that while utility-scale turbines are often much higher than anything else in the vicinity, the rotation of their blades is slower than that of smaller-scale wind turbines and therefore less noticeable . Most jurisdictions require environmental impact assessments and compel wind developers to satisfy a variety of land use regulations, such as maintaining minimum set-back distances from residences and inhabited areas or wetlands.
While the wind sector’s rapid growth indicates that orchestrated local opposition has not posed a serious obstacle to development, local opposition, in conjunction with other factors, has occasionally led to project delays and, in a small number of cases, cancellations. Such confrontations are less common in Germany because many wind farms are owned and operated by co-ops, whose shareholders include local residents. Streamlined municipal planning rules also help facilitate development in some European countries whose municipalities have the authority to determine where wind farms may or may not be built.
Renewable energy developers in Canada are beginning to promote more community-based approaches, allowing local residents to partake in the benefits of installing wind farms. As North American electricity planners look increasingly to renewables such as wind and solar, the political case for opposing wind farms has grown weaker as popular support for green energy expands.
This graphic illustrates the decibel level of wind turbines relative to a variety of other common noises from falling leaves up to a jet airplane.