Modern wind turbines are tall structures when compared to other nearby man-made and natural objects, as required to capture stronger and less turbulent winds at greater heights. Unlike many other areas in the country where the windiest areas are remote, New England's high population density means that wind turbines are often visible from some nearby communities and residences, raising aesthetic concerns. This effect is further compounded by the fact that, for on-shore applications, most turbines will need to be sited at higher elevations on mountain or hill ridgelines or exposed shorelines. For off-shore applications, turbines will generally be visible from the shoreline as transmission line limitations and ocean depths will dictate how far from shore these projects can be located. In the longer run, off-shore wind farms may be able to move to even windier locations farther off-shore, based on the experience gained from installations nearer to shore.
Eye of the Beholder
Some members of a community may find wind turbines unappealing, unsuitable for a given landscape, industrial in appearance, or even downright ugly. Many others find them suitable in a proposed location, graceful in their slow-moving sweep, and may see in them a majestic beauty. In New England communities in which modern wind power facilities have been installed, surveys have been conducted to solicit public perceptions on aesthetics. Like many other surveys conducted elsewhere, these generally support the proposition that well-sited wind farms experience increased acceptance following construction. See for example:
- A general survey of Vermont residents (PDF 79 KB) Download Adobe Reader was conducted in March 2004 by Renewable Energy Vermont and includes a question on visibility and aesthetic acceptability of wind turbines in Vermont.
- In Rhode Island, the Wind Energy Center (a collaboration of Roger Williams University School of Architecture, Brown University, and the Rhode Island School of Design) has been developing and applying a combination of tools to explore the visual aspects of wind power in specific communities. By combining a dynamic photo simulation able to illustrate the aesthetic placement of wind turbines and their kinetic motion in various landscapes and state-of-the-art deliberative polling techniques to assess aesthetic perceptions within a broader context, the Wind Energy Center helps communities that value wind energy to find the best locations for installation.
While aesthetic impacts are subjective and may be addressed through local planning processes, a related concern in communities hosting wind projects is the impact to property values. The most comprehensive study to date was completed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in December 2009, and is entitled "The Impact of Wind Power Projects on Residential Property Values in the United States: A Multi-Site Hedonic Analysis" (PDF 3.7 MB) Download Adobe Reader. The authors collected data on almost 7,500 sales of single family homes situated within 10 miles of 24 existing wind facilities in nine different U.S. states. The analysis finds that if property value impacts do exist, they are too small and/or too infrequent to result in any widespread, statistically observable impact, though the possibility that individual homes or small numbers of homes have been or could be negatively impacted cannot be dismissed.
In locations where tourism is an important part of the local economy, the presence of a new wind energy facility may raise questions about possible negative impacts to local tourism. A wind farm may be perceived as a complement or an enhancement to tourism for those interested in the technology or as an opportunity for the community to build awareness and education around clean energy. In other cases it could be seen as having an adverse impact to the local tourism industry by deterring visitors. While U.S. studies are limited, the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration, at the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, University of Delaware, issued the October 2009 report, "The Effect of Wind Power Installations on Coastal Tourism" (PDF 446 KB) Download Adobe Reader.