In 2004, the residents of Lyman, New Hampshire stood in near-unison against a wind developer’s request to erect a 158-foot met tower atop the prominent Gardner Mountain Range. Lyman’s land use regulations prohibited structures taller than 35-feet with a few exceptions for agriculture uses (barns, silos, etc), so a variance was needed. The residents of the small farming community (pop. 500) quickly recognized the met tower for what it was – an invitation to flatten the peak and construct massive wind towers in a linear array along the ridgeline.
Every tactic attempted by the developer to win approval fell short.
First, they claimed wind energy was an agricultural use and, thus, allowed under the town’s exceptions clause. When that didn’t work, they insisted the use was temporary and not subject to the regulations, but the ordinance, as minimal as it was, included a legal definition of ‘temporary’ that didn’t apply. They forcefully argued that the tower carried no negative impacts but that failed after a trusted realtor explained how a single met tower could completely collapse Lyman’s real estate market. “Merely the possibility of an unknown [development on the mountain] would have buyers looking elsewhere,” he said. Finally, they promised riches beyond what this small New England community could imagine – a panacea for Lyman’s cash burdens and limited tax base. But that too was rejected when residents offered to pay more than their share in property taxes. No legal, emotional or financial case could justify waiving the regulations, and the variance was rejected.
Similar debates have occurred in communities across the U.S. The specific arguments might change depending on the circumstances, but the sentiment is always the same. This should not surprise anyone, especially the wind industry.
Volumes of academic papers dating back to the 1980’s examine public opposition to wind turbines and the barrier it poses to widespread deployment. Samples include Thayer and Freeman (1987) in California, Walker (1995) in the US, D Bell et.al (2005) in the UK, and A. Jobert et.al. (2007) in France and Germany.
Researchers have been baffled for decades over why general positive attitudes toward wind energy have not translated into community acceptance of projects. Yet, a review of existing research suggests less focus on understanding opposition and more on reinforcing wind industry narratives.
Authors characterize opponents as a minority of uninformed agitators ‘grounded in self-interest’ or jealous of their neighbors’ good fortune to have land for lease. They wonder how a select few could wield such influence over decision makers. Visual blight is cited as the primary complaint while noise, shadow flicker, safety risks, and harms to the natural environment are dismissed as non-issues. Pasqualetti (2001) points to California’s San Gorgonio Pass, one of the highest concentrations of wind turbines worldwide, and touts how “[o]nly 20 years into the modern development of wind power, many of the sources of worry and disapproval have already been addressed successfully.” He goes on to say that “the challenges of turbine size, color, finish, spacing, noise, efficiency, reliability, safety, and decommissioning all have been remedied or conceptually solved by developers, equipment manufacturers, and regulatory authorities.”
This picture of the San Gorgonio Pass is what Pasqualetti calls success:
His blustering about wind power’s advances is just that, bluster. The impacts of wind power have not been resolved. On the contrary, they’ve expanded to a point where often the only safe option is to not build at all. Since 2001, U.S. wind energy has increased 25-fold to 107,319 MW and turbines have more than tripled in size reaching well over 600-feet in height. Distance is the only certain mitigation for protecting adjacent properties yet more people are living closer to turbines than ever before.
In January 2019, Liberty Utilities president David Swain personally signed agreements with Barton and Jasper county commissioners in Missouri to locate 604-foot tall turbines just five hundred feet from the nearest property lines of non-participating landowners and 1.1x total tip height (664-feet) from occupied residential homes. Liberty's setbacks are not even representative of what the wind industry considers ‘standard’ and Swain knows it. County residents raised safety concerns with the Missouri PSC, but by time Liberty revealed the project layout, the deal was done. (The agreements signed by Swain appear as attachments to the letter.)
Liberty Utilities preaches the “We Care” motto on its website and cites its mission “to become an outstanding member of the local community,” but Swain and the utility are uninterested in the health and safety complaints their turbines are certain to produce. Is this what caring and community cooperation looks like?
Wind developers have no interest in being good neighbors and will never concede the social and environmental harms caused by turbines.
Instead, biased experts using dubious methodologies rapidly produce studies that counter known impacts. To them, methods do not matter as long as the right conclusions supporting their bias are reported. These studies, in turn, form the foundation for multi-million dollar government and wind industry funded literature reviews that show turbines are safe, while legitimate reports quantifying real impacts on communities are often dismissed as outliers.
When big wind’s unrelenting campaign to conceal reality meets opposition, the industry exercises its political clout to shift the balance in its favor. There’s no clearer example of this than in New York where Governor Cuomo (King Cuomo to the locals) rammed through his Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act as part of the state’s 2020-21 budget. The new law removes any requirement for evidentiary proceedings which means no cross-examination of expert testimony and no opportunity for equal consideration for an impacted public.
Over the next year, the newly formed Office of Renewable Energy Siting will "establish a set of uniform standards and conditions for the siting, design, construction and operation" of major renewable energy facilities. Until that process is started, we cannot assess how effective the state will be in terms of protecting communities and wildlife, but we might guess from the legislative priority which is to expedite review, reduce burdensome conditions on developers, and meet Cuomo's carbon mandates. The importance of public involvement cannot be overstated. Under this new regime, Apex Clean Energy would have succeeded in its deceitful actions to hide eagle activity at NY’s Galloo Island wind site in 2018. It took an engaged public to reveal the truth. For New York, the public is now largely silenced.
Correcting the lies, yes LIES, proffered by big wind has worn down a generation of people working to raise awareness about turbine impacts, but Americans are tough, principled, and above all, abhor deceitfulness in any form. An extensive, well-connected network of those fighting wind has grown exponentially in the last two decades as the public learned more.
In 2004, Lyman residents understood intuitively what millions know today and what alludes researchers: People oppose their communities becoming the dumping ground for wind projects made up of grotesque flashing, loud-whooshing, bird-bat busting icons revered by green new deal followers.
 The developer was UPC Wind who later changed its name to First Wind. First Wind was sold to Sun Edison/TerraForm in 2014 for $2.4 billion. Less than two years after acquiring First Wind, Sun Edison filed for bankruptcy protection.