Coal states prefer local wind over fossil plants — study

Source: David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 22, 2019

People who live near wind turbines almost always prefer them to a hypothetical power plant that uses fossil fuels, according to a new survey carried out by University of Delaware researchers.

Published in Nature Energy this week, the study asked respondents residing within 8 kilometers, or roughly 5 miles, of a wind turbine about their attitude toward it, and obliged them to imagine living near other sorts of power facilities instead.

About 90 percent said they preferred the turbines to a nuclear, coal or natural gas facility. That strong preference held true even in coal states and red states.

“To me, what’s really important in this particular study is that there seems to be support from the public for the energy transition that is underway in the U.S.,” said Jeremy Firestone, lead author and director of the university’s Center for Research in Wind. “It looks like it’s pretty widely embraced.”

The study also turned up a striking preference for wind over utility-scale solar, at least among the two-thirds of respondents who said they liked one over the other.

For every person who preferred a solar project, three others would rather live near the wind farm instead. Wind even beat out solar in the sun-rich Southwest. Only in red states did a majority prefer solar.

“In a certain sense, it’s the most striking thing about the whole study,” said Firestone.

It’s unclear why respondents tended to favor wind to solar — or other types of power facilities — because the researchers didn’t ask. But they speculated that it could have to do with the much larger amount of land required for solar farms.

The research grew out of a larger series led by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Last year, the lab found that “not in my backyard” fights were not always the critical factor in opposition to residents living near utility-scale wind (Greenwire, Jan. 29, 2018).

The University of Delaware study considered responses from over 1,700 people living near wind farms that ranked as “small” (10 turbines or fewer) to “large” (more than 10 turbines). The turbines themselves were all commercial-sized, or more than 364 feet tall.

Past studies have assessed public attitudes about power generation types or about specific wind farm proposals. But the paper is the first to incorporate views on power generation with opinions on specific wind locations.

“We’ve tended to look at social acceptance quite narrowly: wind or no wind,” said Firestone. “It’s rarely placed in a larger context. In the future, we have to get our electricity from somewhere. And people actually live near energy facilities.”