Wind Energy and Land Rights

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In 2008 the U.S. Department of Energy released a plan for 20 percent of energy to be wind-generated by 2030. Finding land to place wind turbines (windmills), however, is difficult. Long-term studies must be done to make sure there is enough wind to generate electricity. The land must be in reasonable reach of power lines and have road access. Developers also must be fairly sure that future development nearby will not obstruct the wind. Placement of wind turbines also needs to be in an area where it will not interrupt air, television, and microwave signals.

A wind energy developer wants to place 30 turbines along a mountain ridgeline in between two rural towns. The developer has leased the land from a single private owner, who approves of the project. The majority of the townspeople of both nearby towns also approve of the project. It will bring work to the area where there are not many jobs, although most of the work will be temporary construction projects placing the turbines. The townspeople will also receive tax benefits once the turbines are running, and their electricity bills will decrease. Most residents also feel that the rows of spinning turbines in the distance will enhance the landscape and represent progress in an area where there are few signs of modern technology.

The wind developer has spent two years getting all the permits needed to begin construction. However, just below the area where the turbines are to be placed are large vacation homes owned by wealthy people that have chosen to locate their second homes in an area where they can have unobstructed views of the majestic mountains. Many of their homes have been built with large picture windows facing the ridgeline where the turbines are planned to be placed. In other cases where turbines are located near homes, wind developers have given nearby homes central air conditioning units so residents do not have to open their windows when the turbines are running. These homes, however, already have central air conditioning and the residents are not won over by offers of money to compensate for their loss of pristine mountain views. They believe that the view of the turbines will lower their property values below what they originally paid to build their homes.

The small group of homeowners has formed a group to oppose development. They have hired an environmental consultant company and have filed a lawsuit that has held up the project. The lawsuit centers on an access road that will have to be constructed to move the heavy equipment to the proposed wind turbine site. The road must cross over several streams. The streams will need bridges built over them, which will require the riverbanks to be altered. Water flow may change and possibly affect species within the streams. If necessary, these homeowners are ready to file a second lawsuit claiming the access road would break up habitat for bears and other wildlife in the area. The homeowners are also looking into possible effects wind farm development might have on the bird and bat populations in the area.

The local townspeople are angered that, though they approved the wind farm project through a vote and permits have been approved for work on the project to start, a small group of “outsiders” that live in the area only a few months a year have stopped a major project that could bring money to their community. The local government has hired its own environmental consultant that recommends proceeding with the project due to the benefit of wind energy in slowing global climate change. Wind energy is considered a clean, non-polluting form of energy due to its low carbon emissions.

All the publicity from the lawsuit has caused a private non-profit environmental conservation group to take notice. It has offered to purchase the land to prevent development and preserve the landscape as scenic open space. If the conservation group purchased the land, it could be used for recreation but would not be developed for any use in the foreseeable future.

Questions:

1. Who are the stakeholders in this scenario?

2. If wind power was a major source of energy in the U.S, there would likely be a measureable decline in air and water pollution, and a certain decline in our reliance on imported fossil fuels for our energy needs. What obstacles to the development of wind-powered energy were brought up in this scenario?

3. There are a number of different environmental concerns in this case. What are the potential local and global effects of wind-power development in this case, both positive and negative?

4. The view of a field of turbines is pleasing to some and displeasing to others. In this case, townspeople thought it would enhance the landscape while the vacation homeowners thought the view would lower their property value.  What is likely the reason for their major differences of opinion?

5. Should a wind turbine field be developed in this area? Justify your reasoning.

More to Explore

How is wind used to generate electricity?
How are sites for wind energy development picked?
What are the United States federal and state policies surrounding wind energy development?