The more a community is involved in wind energy planning, including getting direct benefits from nearby turbines, the more likely the development will gain local support, according to a new study from London, Ontario-based Western University.
The study, conducted by Chad Walker and Jamie Baxter of the university’s Department of Geography, examines communities living near wind turbines in southwestern Ontario and Nova Scotia, explains a press release from Western University. Their paper, “It’s easy to throw rocks at a corporation: Wind energy development and distributive justice in Canada,” is published in the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning.
Through interviews and surveys, local residents criticized the “top-down, corporate-led” pattern of development in Ontario – in stark contrast to the more “positive reflections” about similar projects in Nova Scotia, where there are more “profit-sharing, community-based initiatives,” the university says.
“The general lack of financial benefits and opportunities to invest in local wind projects in Ontario may be added to the long list of things responsible for intense pushback to development in the province over the past decade,” says Walker. “In Nova Scotia, support for local wind projects was three times higher, and perceptions of health effects were three times lower.”
Those living closest to wind turbines in both provinces believe that the number of local benefits is too low, but they have even stronger feelings about the fair local distribution of those benefits, the university says.
According to both Walker and Baxter, who suggested the provinces should consider “novel compensation measures,” government efforts to site new projects should focus on local fairness. For example, 75% of all survey respondents (and 83% of those opposed to their local project) supported the idea of electricity rebates for turbines’ nearby neighbors. In Ontario, in particular, reducing hydro bills in wind-rich, rural areas may make wind energy a bit more palatable, according to the university, which notes that Ontario is home to more than 6,000 turbines, with the vast majority of them owned by corporations outside of the communities in which they are located.
The study also sheds light on community-based ownership.
“Past research has painted community-based development with an idyllic brush, but those living near wind turbines often were not aware of opportunities to invest in their projects,” says Walker.
Although Nova Scotia’s approach has been relatively successful in generating local support, the researchers say, most residents still had concerns, including fears that the majority of local investors may live hundreds of kilometers away and be far removed from the realities of rural wind development.
The full study can be found here.