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Western Researchers Examine Wind Turbine Debate

Just about everyone in Ontario has an opinion about wind turbines.

Researchers at Western University have examined why some people hold the opinions they do about the large, eye-catching turbines.

Jamie Baxter and Chad Walker in Western’s Department of Geography have published a report in the journal Environment and Planning called, “Beyond rhetoric to understanding determinants of wind turbine support and conflict in two Ontario, Canada communities” that examines data collected in Port Burwell and Clear Creek.

“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.

Researchers spoke face to face with 26 people and collected 152 questionnaires.

“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 them.

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.

The researchers found 80% of residents in Port Burwell support turbines, compared to 63% in Clear Creek.

Also, only 3% of the Port Burwell respondents 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.”