MANHATTAN, Kan., Sept. 6, /U.S. Newswire/ – Wind farms can’t be successful just anywhere there is a strong breeze. On the other hand, they don’t have to face bitter opposition any time they are proposed.
It just takes the right type of community to welcome the technology, said Jacob Sowers, a doctoral student in geography at Kansas State University.
Sowers, Morrison, Ill., has studied communities that have supported wind turbines built in their area, and has found a few factors that separate towns and people who welcome the idea, versus those who fight the construction.
Wind energy is typically popular at the national level because of its value as a renewable, “green” energy source, according to Sowers. However, at the local level, opposition is nearly always rampant when a wind farm is proposed. Residents often don’t want the structures in their area, or “not in my backyard,” citing noise, unsightliness and danger to birds. Opposition to wind farms can be seen in Cape Cod, Mass., suburban Wisconsin, Washington state, coastal California and even in the Kansas Flint Hills, for example.
But there are areas where “not in my backyard” – or NIMBY – changes to PIMBY – “please in my backyard.” Through Sowers’ research, he found communities in northwestern Iowa, western Kansas, eastern Colorado, western Texas, eastern Wyoming and southwestern Minnesota that have embraced wind farms.
Sowers said communities that support wind farms are typically rural agricultural towns in the Midwest and the Great Plains. The wind turbines are usually built on farmland, some distance from the town.
Farmers receive between $1,500 and $2,000 a year per turbine built on their land. Turbine construction also provides farmers with extra soil and improved field access roads.
But it isn’t just the farmers who welcome the turbines – the entire town does, Sowers said.
“They don’t necessarily care about green energy; they care about the local economy,” he said. Farmers with more income spend more of that income in the town. Tax revenue generated by the turbines goes to local schools and local road projects, for example.
“Family farmers stick together,” Sowers said. “And the money generated lets the family farmer stay on the land. What’s good for the family farmer is good for the community.”
Even other farmers in the area who don’t have the turbines on their land are favorable toward them. Sowers said they believe that if the community continues to back wind farms, perhaps they may get the next round of turbines. Additionally, many of these farmers are friends, or even relatives, so mutual support is typical.
To these farmers, turbines are just another piece of farm machinery, reaping the wind, Sowers said.
A couple of factors do exist, however, separating favorable areas from unfavorable, Sowers has found. Although rural agricultural communities may even find wind turbines in the distance to be a pretty sight, that doesn’t go for areas considered scenic byways.
“You can’t put wind turbines on locally important land,” he said. Trying to do so is one thing that can give wind farms a bad name. Sowers said this concept explains the opposition to wind farms in the Flint Hills. Also, wind farm corporations should stay away from growing towns.
“You can’t build a town under a wind turbine, but you can farm under one,” Sowers said.
Sowers believes the future of wind energy is to expand it in favorable communities, rather than attempt to bring it to communities where citizens aren’t receptive.
“Taking it to a place where people want it means you don’t have to fight it,” he said. “The important thing for the industry is to spend more time understanding the people – there isn’t opposition to everything everywhere. It takes time to find out where something fits; find those ‘special places.'” He said that can mean putting wind farms where they may not be the most profitable, but compared to facing staunch opposition, may be more worthwhile. Local opposition is one of the most significant factors holding back the expansion of wind energy, Sowers said.
Sowers said the project interests him as a geographer due to the concept of place identity.
“As much as we like to talk about having a national identity, we don’t,” he said. “Opinions and ideas vary considerably across the nation.”
An article on Sowers’ wind farm research was published in the Spring 2006 issue of Great Plains Quarterly, “Field of Opportunity: Wind Machines Return to the Plains.” Sowers’ next research project will focus on place identity in the contemporary rural Mojave Desert.
Contact: Cheryl May of Kansas State University Media Relations, 785-532-6415 or 785-532-0458
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