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Wind farm opinions may be shifting

It might have been conducted prior to the battle over Tipton County’s Prairie Breeze Wind Farm, but a recently-published study by a Purdue University professor found “overwhelming” support from Indiana residents for wind farms.

Linda Prokopy, an associate professor of natural resources planning, and Kate Mulvaney, a former graduate student, studied wind farm development proposals in Benton, Tippecanoe and Boone counties in 2010. They sought answers to how people in the Midwest feel about having wind farms in their communities and the factors that led some places to embrace or reject them.

One of the authors’ studies focused on Benton County, where 500 wind turbines are located.

Another study compared Benton County with two other Indiana counties – Boone County, which rejected wind farm development, and Tippecanoe County, which at the time was still considering wind farms. The researchers conducted surveys and interviews and studied local newspaper articles on wind energy.

Wednesday Prokopy said she’s heard from several Tipton County residents since Purdue announced her study findings last week, and said it’s possible attitudes are changing.

“There was a vocal minority in Tippecanoe and Boone counties that really was a minority. There weren’t hundreds of people coming to the meetings,” she said.

“That doesn’t seem to be the case with Tipton County.”

In Tippecanoe County, officials tightened the rules for wind energy development in a way which satisfied public concerns but also allowed for future development, she said.

Boone County was different, she added. There, the people wanted to keep out all wind farm development, period.

But in sparsely populated Benton County – which has about 22 people per square mile compared to 64 per square mile in Tipton County – there really was overwhelming support for wind farms.

One wind energy official was quoted in the study saying “[Benton County] basically wanted development, and they wanted it bad.”

Even in the counties which rejected wind development, underlying support for wind energy was there, she said.

“We found that there is not a lot of opposition from the people in the Midwest,” Prokopy said. “And there are not a lot of perceived negative impacts from people who have or live near wind turbines.”

In each county, more than 80 percent of survey respondents said they either supported wind farms in their counties or supported them with reservations. That was the case even in areas where local governments were against wind farm development or newspaper articles trended toward more negative aspects of the farms.

“We would have expected differences in support based on the media coverage, but what we found was support across the board,” Prokopy said.

Still, she said, the opposition in Tipton County raises questions, which might be answered by other studies.

“You have to ask, are the three counties we studied an anomaly, or is Tipton County an anomaly?” she said.