Wind farm proponents seek to identify locations with the greatest wind resource and the smallest population. This approach mitigates human interaction and impact whenever possible. Uninhabited areas are scarce in New England, however. Due to the region's population density, many of the region's windy locations — which include coastal areas and high elevations — are in view of nearby communities or valued for their natural beauty or recreational value. As a result, the importance of public acceptance is magnified in determining the viability of wind power installations.
Further complicating public acceptance of wind power installations is the local nature of wind project impacts compared to wind power's substantial benefits. All forms of energy have impacts on their surroundings, and our society requires power plants to satisfy its demand for electricity. On a regional and broader scale, wind power's benefits are considerable, and surveys show that the majority of the population supports wind power when compared to the alternatives. In light of these benefits and the broad public support, some communities focus on the question of "compared to what?" and then embrace wind power proposals.
In other locations where wind power installations are proposed, individuals and organizations have expressed concern or opposition to wind energy. In most cases where opposition evolves, wind power is a new idea to the local community. In the rush to educate and act, imperfect information about the performance and impact of wind projects may be circulated, by project proponents and opponents. Without wind project experience, it is difficult for community members to know what to believe. Reasons cited for opposition are usually based on several common, underlying concerns regarding perceived impacts on the community. The following issues typically receive the most attention relative to development of wind power in New England.
Discusses aesthetics and addresses concerns about proximity of wind turbines affecting property values and tourism.
Discusses impacts on birds, bats, and other wildlife activity.
Discusses how a properly located wind project can easily coexist with a community with minimal intrusion. Potential concerns include sound; shadow flicker; and radar, TV, and radio signal interference.
Addresses concerns of blade icing and shedding and blade throws.
Cumulative Role of Wind Power
One additional area of concern often mentioned has less to do with any individual wind power installation than with concerns over the broader context or cumulative role of wind power. To some, the role of wind power, currently comprising a fraction of a percent of the region's electricity supply portfolio, is too small to be significant, so why should their community host a facility? To others, the concern is the opposite: if a wind project is allowed on one scenic ridgeline, will that open the floodgate to populating all of the region's ridgelines and scenic vistas with wind farms? The reality and the potential for wind power in New England lies between these concerns of extremes. The region's power supply mix consists of a range of sources, powered by natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, waste-to-energy, and biomass sources. At one point in time or another, the contribution of each has been trivial. Yet wind power has only recently reached the point of commercial viability and reliability that is now making it the nation's (and the world's) fastest-growing power source. This trend suggests that in the near future, wind power will play an important role in our electricity portfolio, perhaps similar to the 6% share of New England's portfolio supplied by hydroelectricity.