The majority of people living close to wind farms do not consider them to have a negative impact on their neighbourhoods, a study carried out by a University of Ulster student has revealed.
Shauna McAuley from the Ballymoney area carried out research in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health on community perceptions of living near wind farms.
She graduates today with BSc Hons in Environmental Health at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
In this investigation two populations were chosen to assess the views of those living close to both operational and proposed wind farm sites.
“The research findings indicate that the presence of wind turbines had little impact on the resident’s perception of their neighbourhood as both sites rated their area as ‘good’ or very good’,” said Shauna.
“At the operational site respondents within 3km of the wind farm reported, in an average of 85.6% of cases, that they were not affected at all by the wind farm, in relation to the issues of main concern, visual impact, damage to the environment and negative impact on property prices.
“This study found that respondents were generally strongly in favour of energy generation by renewable technologies, including wind power with support being stronger at the site that is operational rather than the proposed wind farm site. The majority of respondents from both areas also considered wind turbines to be an effective method of generating electricity.
“Respondents from the operational site were more likely to find wind turbines pleasant to look at compared to those at the proposed site. The findings suggest that the experience of living in close proximity to operational wind farms has largely alleviated previous perceptions and/or concerns.”
Shauna says the research highlighted the issue of securing tangible benefits for the local community.
“Very few respondents from the operational site feel there has been much benefit at all to the community as a whole. In relation to this the creation of community turbines should be investigated, as has been done in Wales, where the host community benefits from wind energy installations and local people can exercise a degree of control over the projects,” Shauna added.
For the study 241 people were questioned using a pre- designed questionnaire selected as the most effective method of ascertaining public opinion. This methodology was only made possible by the funding provided through the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s Challenge Fund, which enabled the recruitment and deployment of a team of around 10 fieldworkers.
The interviewees were living in an area where a proposed wind farm site currently seeking planning permission was located and, near-by a new wind farm was operational. This area was chosen to ensure that both populations were from similar settings, for example, rural environment, education, distances to urban areas and size of settlement.Shauna and her dissertation supervisor, University of Ulster, Senior Lecturer, Sean MacIntyre, have used the research findings to write a report which is due to be published this summer by Gary McFarlane and Hannah Rollings of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health NI.
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