A tale of three counties and Indiana attitudes about wind farms: scientific study or opinion piece from Purdue University?
In a study released on March 27, 2013, Purdue University Associate Professor Linda Prokopy has concluded that “Indiana residents are overwhelmingly receptive to wind farms in their communities”.
The Whitley County Concerned Citizens (WCCC) reviewed the most recent Purdue pro-wind ‘study’ that appears to be little more than an editorial from a public university. This study, referenced in an article published in the latest issue of Inside Indiana Business and making its way around the Internet (http://www.insideindianabusiness.com/newsitem.asp?id=58637), claims to be ‘science-based’ but is riddled with problems.
The abstract tells you most of what you need to know: an associate professor with a natural resources planning /social sciences education, along with a former graduate student, “used a mixed methods approach, to understand acceptance of wind farm development in three Indiana counties, using a mail survey, interviews, and a review of local newspaper articles.” Specifically, only 378 valid mail surveys were received (as noted below), only 11 interviews were conducted (including unnamed planners, extension agents, county commissioners, wind industry representatives, major landowners, and opposition leaders), and some ‘newspaper articles were reviewed’… Is this really what passes for a serious scientific study these days?
Purportedly, the study ‘evidence’ supports a conclusion that “there is not a lot of opposition from people in the Midwest…. and not a lot of perceived negative impacts from people who have or live near wind turbines.” Nowhere is the strong and organized opposition in the Indiana counties of Whitley, DeKalb, Wells, Marshall, Adams, Tipton, or Noble mentioned, nor the consistent 20-to-1 (or greater) ratio of those in opposition vs. in support as we’ve observed to be commonly present at all of the aforementioned counties’ public hearings. Instead, the ‘study’ focused on Benton County which has embraced wind farms, and compared it with Boone County which rejected wind farm development and Tippecanoe County which at the time was still considering wind farms.
Survey questionnaires were sent to 750 Benton County residents and 1,000 total residents between Tippecanoe and Boone Counties. However, there were only 755 responses (43%), including 16 responses from residents ‘with a turbine on their property’ per p. 327; these should be eliminated as they are completely biased and generate outliers that would be eliminated from any scientific study – their opinion has been ‘bought and paid for’. Further, we know most residents in Benton County who live nearby but do not have a turbine on the property signed a ‘good neighbor’ contract (a.k.a. ‘gag order’) with the wind developer, agreeing never to say anything negative or they will lose their annual payment. Nowhere is that mentioned either. Therefore, most of the 345 responses from Benton are not valid.
Although the author concludes ‘more than 80% said they either supported wind farms in their counties’ or ‘supported them with reservations’, per p. 326, fully 50% said they either ‘could not see or hear the wind farm’ – i.e., in Benton County, or ‘did not believe they would be able to see or hear the wind farm’ based on proposed development plans – i.e., Tippecanoe and Boone (although there were no final approved maps or plans for actual wind farms, so presumably each respondent answered based on wherever they believed there would be one). If half the 755 respondents do not even live near enough to a wind farm to see or hear it, except for saying ‘I support wind energy’, what value do the opinion of these respondents add? So at best, only half of the 755 respondents, or 378, are valid as to their opinion on all other questions asked.
There are several other serious problems with this ‘study’ which is just 9 pages long as published in the latest issue of the Energy Policy journal (p. 322-330), as follows:
(1) The author (Linda Prokopy) lists this study as a ‘Peer-Reviewed Journal Article’ in her CV – however, unless the ‘peer’ was a co-author such as the ‘former graduate student’, there is nothing for a peer to review as per #2 (her Curriculum Vitae is available on Purdue’s website).
(2) The results could not possibly be independently tested to be verified as there are no exhibits to support this study as one would expect to see at the end of the paper at p. 330 – there is little reference to how the mail survey recipients were selected, no list of the specific questions asked, no list of exact comments received, no list of who was interviewed nor their position, how they were selected, nor the specific questions asked or exact comments made, except per the scant information on p.325; and no list of newspapers/dates/articles reviewed.
(3) The only survey question that is, apparently, stated verbatim per Figure 3 on p. 326 and again in the text on p. 327, leaves a great deal to be desired in terms of clarity and objectivity – “Are you currently supportive of wind turbines in your county?” where the phrase ‘currently supportive’ is undefined and has highly subjective value; it could be interpreted as anything from “I like the idea of renewable energy” to “I actively attend public hearings and speak in favor of wind energy and would volunteer my property for it without getting paid.” What if the question had asked “Would you support wind energy in your county if it meant one or more wind turbines would be located next door just a few hundred feet away, most likely resulting in frequent shadow flicker through the windows in your house and a decrease of 25% to 40% in your property value, perhaps even making your house unsellable (although you won’t know until the towers are permanently in place and the damage is done and irreversible) and you won’t be compensated for your loss?” One is left to wonder how other questions were stated.
(4) Table 1 on p. 324 incorrectly calculates affected population density per square mile of the three counties using the most U.S. Census, taking the entire population of Benton County of 8,854 divided by 406 square miles to derive a population density of 22 people per square mile, deducting none to derive the rural population as ‘Benton County has no large urban centers and does not need a stratified sample’ per p. 325; however, the same U.S. Census shows that 5,739 people live in towns where there are of course no wind farms, leaving only 3,115 rural which is less than 8 per square mile – far less than the 22 cited. Table 1 then demonstrates that Tippecanoe and Boone Counties have far greater rural populations – 151 and 63 people per square mile after deducting for the ‘large urban centers’ noted, as do the other counties listed previously where significant organized opposition exists – a high population density explains why wind farms are so opposed in certain rural areas. But this fact is not mentioned.
(5) The conclusions cannot be valid if the interview evidence contradicts the survey results as noted on p. 327 – where it states “the survey results (‘of those that would allow turbines on their property, most would do so for environmental reasons’) are somewhat incongruous with the findings from interviews in which the majority of respondents cited economic incentive as the main cause for pro-turbine sentiments.” Common sense tells you there’s a ‘good’ reason and the ‘real’ reason for everything people do; if you attended any public hearing in Indiana about wind farms, you’ll rarely hear “it’s clean, green, and renewable” in support of the pro-wind energy position; it’s always about the money. As stated on p. 329, “it is not clear if people were ‘green-washing’ their answers in the survey.” Of course it’s clear – that’s exactly what people do! They say what they think they should, not what they really think. This bias clearly distorted the survey results; but this fact is not mentioned.
(6) Of course most people who ‘support wind energy’ who have not been affected by a wind farm say they like the simple idea of ‘clean, green, renewable’ energy’ – you don’t need a study to tell you that. So most people are blissfully ignorant of the facts about wind energy, as clearly demonstrated per p. 327 where it’s stated that: (a) ‘in Benton County, the interviewed stakeholders believed that most of the opposition had been mitigated after the actual construction of the project’ (note: opposition was most likely mitigated for two reasons: one, the high rate of ‘good neighbor’ agreements signed by non-participants there, and two, almost no one lives within a half mile of a wind turbine there); and (b) only 10% of survey respondents from Tippecanoe County ‘believed the setbacks (1,000′ from residences) to be inappropriate’ – so 90% thought 1,000 feet was fine or ‘did not know’ if it was an appropriate distance (note: 1,000 feet clearly is not adequate; in Benton County, the developer actually overrode the county ordinance which was copied from the wind industry’s boilerplate model, and self-impose a much longer setback of at least 1,500′ knowing 1,000′ was way too short).
Other facts that most people don’t think about unless a wind farm is proposed nearby include:
(a) wind is intermittent, is not reliably produced where or when we need it so backup power must be available from consistent and dense sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear;
(b) due to the need for backup power available on demand, inefficient cycling of coal burning electrical power plants by cycling down to accommodate wind surges when it blows, then cycling up again when the wind stops blowing, can actually increase net carbon emissions;
(c) setback distances to mitigate noise and shadow flicker etc. from residences and property lines are arbitrary and based on local politics and industry pressure, not health, safety and sound science;
(d) wind energy is not yet proven to be environmentally safe, or even economically viable without significant federal (PTC), state (RPS), and local (tax abatement) subsidies; and
(e) initial published estimates of job creation and financial impact to the county as promised by wind developers are grossly overstated. But these facts are not mentioned.
(7) The survey results on p. 327 also showed that most respondents (65%) did not believe that their property values would be affected by wind farm development – of course not! Remember, 50% of the respondents said they do not / or believed they would not live close enough to a proposed wind farm to see or hear it! If you are out of the view shed, the property’s value most likely won’t go down. But this fact is not mentioned.
(8) The discredited Hoen study ‘who found that neither proximity to wind turbines nor view of wind turbines affected property values’ is cited on p. 327 – Studies like the Hoen example cited with statistics and mass data studies funded by biased pro-wind organizations are meaningless – full of spin, manipulation, and bad methodologies; for example, diluting the results by including undeveloped tillable farm land which is not affected; including the very farms which host turbines that have gone up in value because of the certainty of the cash flow from the lease income; and including rural properties up to ten miles away where values are not affected as the ratio of area to radius length incorporates so much area that effects are artificially reduced. Real estate prices are sensitive to location, ‘curb appeal’, and the quality of the view from the property; these matter even more so for rural residential properties, each of which is unique. ‘Comparables’ used to determine value are much more subjective for country residential real estate (therefore values are much more difficult to assess) than those for similar-type houses in a subdivision, so proof of loss cannot be ascertained from mass data studies, only from independent appraisals. Any realtor worth his/her salt would say that the impact of a development on the value of a property can only be assessed by actually visiting the property.
If, as the pro-wind side believes, property values don’t decline when a wind farm is in the view shed, then why don’t wind developers offer everyone nearby a ‘property value guarantee’ / PVG contract? Because they know property values drop. But these facts are not mentioned.
(9) There are more possibilities than those listed on p. 323 as to ‘why people are generally supportive of wind energy but may not support a local project’ – ‘Democratic deficit’ (where a small but vocal minority of opponents to a wind development is able to block it, despite the fact that the majority of the community is supportive but silent) and misunderstood ‘qualified support’ are mentioned as the only two reasons why otherwise widespread support may be blocked at the local level. What is not stated is this: when people buy a place out in the country it is done with a set of laws in place relative to the local area land use in an agricultural zone, and the price paid is based on the market’s perceived value given the ‘permitted uses’ and its impact on lifestyle, view, etc. Those rules were established in the local county zoning ordinances. When a commercial enterprise comes along and wants to change those rules – by variance / special exception, an ‘overlay district’ (overlaying an industrial zone on top of the agricultural zone), or creating a state ‘siting board’ to usurp the right to ‘home rule’ in land use matters – and the end result is they can potentially steal other peoples’ property values and right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of their land without fair compensation, those who are infringed upon tend to take a stand and fight. ‘Quiet enjoyment’ is the legal right of a property owner to enjoy his/her property in peace without interference. Specific legal ‘nuisances’ that interfere with the physical condition of the property (e.g., vibration, noise, pollution, raising or lowering the water table and/or affecting underground water supply), or interfere with the comfort, convenience, health, or mental tranquility of the occupant (e.g., blocked access, foul odor, excessive smoke / dust / shadow / light / sound / temperature) are common law torts – civil wrongs redressed by monetary damages or injunction. Wind farm opponents are not keeping others from doing as they please with their property – within the already established and very broad ‘permitted uses’ as approved in a defined agricultural zone within the county ordinance. What the wind farmer/landowner really wants is more than what is allowed – the right to have a non-agricultural industrial power plant facility on his property and to include others inside the footprint of the industrial zone whether they wish it or not.
(10) The ‘role of local government’ and its desire to be ‘amenable to the wind industry’ as noted on p. 328 should be questioned and not just assumed – wind developers are not regulated public utilities; they have no right to trample on residents’ property rights and values for some perceived ‘greater good’ and ‘public use’ via eminent domain. These are private companies making secret deals with farmers to control tens of thousands of acres then pressuring the local government to change the rules in the developer’s favor. Many wind developers behave like the unscrupulous carpetbaggers of olden days, manipulating local politics (bribing officials with PILOT – Payment In Lieu Of Taxes – essentially a redistribution of taxpayer money via the subsidies they receive, for which the county officials can take credit as being used for its schools, parks, fire departments etc.), exploiting the ‘wind’ ignorance of the rural population for personal gain, and badgering people to sign unconscionable one-sided legal contracts. The wind industry has no accountability and is subject to virtually no oversight or regulation. Local governments should not be complicit.
Clearly, there is far more to the story than what is contained in this study.
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