If some researchers are studying why groups oppose construction of wind turbines, it’s a different question that fascinates Texas A&M researcher Christian Brannstrom.
“You’d be amazed at how little we know about why people like wind power,” Brannstrom said.
To find out, Brannstrom and fellow researchers began interviewing Nolan County residents, focusing their efforts on the opinions of a few stakeholders and decision-makers.
The results, published earlier this year in the academic journal Annals of the Association of American Geographers, reveal some differences of opinion even among a group largely supportive of wind development in the area, Brannstrom said.
“Certainly, there’s disagreement among the key actors about whether tax abatements should be used at all,” Brannstrom said.
Brannstrom, an associate professor in the university’s department of geography, began researching in Nolan County in 2008.
Fellow researchers Wendy Jepson, Nicole Persons (a master’s student at the time) and Brannstrom interviewed local residents.
“We spent a lot of time in Sweetwater and Roscoe,” Brannstrom said.
The research, funded by wind company NextEra Energy Resources, is part of a larger collaboration that involves Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
NextEra “didn’t ask us for a particular outcome,” Brannstrom said, and participants were told about the source of funding for the study.
The study noted that by 2009, Nolan County had about one-third of all installed capacity of wind energy in Texas, with the wind farms commonly built on private property. Firms behind the wind farm seek tax abatements and pay royalties to landowners. The goal of the study was different from a survey, Brannstrom said, instead narrowly focused on how 21 participants ranked statements about wind power.
The study concluded that support for wind turbines “is multidimensional, informed by place-based experiences relating to economic change, tax policy, the housing market, distribution of benefits, and costs of economic changes.”
Brannstrom noted that people have been opposed to wind turbines in some regions along the east and west coasts.
“Maybe it should be clustered where people actually want it and it puts money in landowners’ pockets, keeps people from leaving town, and keeps populations from shrinking,” Brannstrom said. “Personally, that’s how I feel about it.”
But he also said development raises many questions.
“What does it mean for tax policy? Who’s paying for this? … Who’s not benefiting? We have to be concerned with all of it. We can’t just be, ‘Wind power’s great, build more of it,'” said Brannstrom, who brings groups of students in an energy class to the Sweetwater area yearly to show them wind turbines up close and other wind-related businesses.
Now – in research not funded by NextEra – Brannstrom is attempting to study royalty payments and whether those dollars are staying in Nolan County or going to landowners outside the region. He said royalty agreements are difficult to study, however, because of confidentiality agreements.
“Some people claim it’s part of ‘Dairy Queen talk,'” Brannstrom said, but he noted that he needs more than that to publish any results.
“It would require more confidence and trust from residents, from people who live in that area,” Brannstrom said.
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