Concerns about Wind Energy’s Impact on Communities

A group of wind turbines behind trees, buildings, and farmland

AWind energy project developers work with landowners and community leaders to assess any impacts a proposed wind farm may have on nearby communities. Photo from Werner Slocum, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Wind energy projects offer many advantages to the communities that host them, including job creation, tax and land-lease revenue, and, of course, clean, affordable, homegrown electricity. They can also provide financial benefits and/or other forms of compensation. Our guide to wind energy community benefit agreements shows how communities can discuss such compensation while supporting wind energy.

Neighbors of existing or proposed wind projects may have questions about the turbines or development. Topics of potential concern include sound; shadow flicker; radar, TV, and radio signal interference; and impacts to other uses or industries. Before making decisions regarding whether a wind project installation is appropriate in a given location, it is important to assess these potential impacts. A properly sited wind project can coexist within the community with minimal intrusion.

Siting issues are typically addressed during the planning process, during which the developer uses computerized tools and experience gained from the more than 71,000 wind turbines installed in the United States to evaluate impacts relative to the site and the surrounding community. The siting process, including detailed community dialogue, should identify measures that may be required to minimize or mitigate any problems identified. Although the potential impacts will vary by project, WINDExchange provides credible information for landowners, community decision-makers, and the interested public about siting topics such as the following.

However, when properly located (or properly sited, in industry terms), wind energy projects can power communities or the grid with few drawbacks. Wind energy project developers also work with landowners and community decision makers to assess potential advantages and concerns when deciding whether a wind energy project is right for a given location. Check out the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Land-Based Wind Energy Siting: A Foundational and Technical Resource, to learn more about wind energy site selection.

During the wind energy project development phase, after developers have determined a location has potential for a wind energy project, developers will work with surrounding communities to minimize or mitigate any negative impacts.

Explore the following resources to familiarize yourself with common concerns about wind energy projects’ impacts on the communities that host them and to find strategies for mitigating these impacts.

Human Health and Wind Farms

People who live near proposed or existing wind energy projects may be concerned about potential impacts to human health. However, most studies show that while some people may find wind turbines annoying, there is no evidence that exposure to wind turbines poses a direct risk to human health.

Safety Concerns about Wind Farms

Safety is always a top consideration during wind energy project development. Common safety concerns about wind energy projects may include the accumulation of ice on the blades of wind turbines or detached or partially detached turbine blades.

Wind energy project developers address these concerns by placing turbines away from inhabited structures. Wind energy site operators ensure that turbines are properly maintained or removed if no longer functioning, and training and safety standards (see our guide on offshore wind energy workforce safety standards and training) ensure workers near turbines minimize risk.

Review our page on safety concerns associated with wind farms, as well as strategies for minimizing safety risks.

Shadow Flicker and Wind Farms

Shadow flicker occurs when wind turbine blades cast shadows that move across the ground and nearby structures, creating a flickering effect. This phenomenon may concern those who live with photosensitive epilepsy or are otherwise sensitive to flickering and flashing light. However, the required sun angle is rare, and the maximum rotation rate of modern wind turbine blades is well below the threshold known to trigger epilepsy symptoms. Therefore, shadow flicker is not considered a concern to human health.

Computer models can help wind energy project developers predict when, where, and to what degree shadow flicker will occur, and regulations can require turbines be a certain distance away from other structures. This information can help wind energy project developers mitigate the impact of shadow flicker when selecting a wind energy site and determining the layout of the turbines.

Review our page on shadow flicker and wind farms.

Sound Impacts of Wind Farms

Operating wind turbines can create several types of sounds, including a mechanical hum produced by the generator and a “whooshing” noise produced by the blades moving through the air. The presence of wind turbine noise can depend on atmospheric conditions, as well as a person’s ability to perceive the sound, which varies based on the shape of the surrounding terrain and the presence of other nearby sources of noise, manmade or otherwise.

Well-sited wind farms leave appropriate distances between turbines and nearby communities to reduce or eliminate potential sound issues, and the noises they make are as quiet as a whisper, far below a volume that could cause hearing damage. However, because sound perception is an individual characteristic influenced by many factors, wind turbine noise impacts should be documented and discussed with those communities.

Review our page on potential sound impacts of wind farms, as well as strategies for reducing wind turbine noise.

Wind Farm Locations

Aesthetic Concerns about Wind Farms

Like any energy project, wind projects may alter views that members of the neighboring community are accustomed to. Visual impact analyses can accurately portray how wind turbines affect aesthetics and can help residents better understand what a project might look like when completed. Additionally, location planning efforts, development regulations, and the type of wind energy project can help mitigate any impacts to an area’s aesthetics.

Regulations (such as ordinances) can define guidance for site selection, and as with the other concerns discussed on this page, wind energy project developers can work with landowners, community members, and decision makers to carefully consider the ways to minimize a wind farm’s aesthetic impact.

Review our page on the aesthetic concerns associated with wind farms.

Property Values and Wind Farms

Residents of communities near potential or existing wind farms may be concerned that a wind farm will negatively affect property values. However, research shows that home prices may be reduced near wind farms for short periods but have been found to return to pre-construction prices within 3–5 years of project operation.

Review our page on wind farms and property values.

Radar Interference and Wind Farms

If wind turbines are located within the line of sight of radar systems, they can interfere with radar systems involved in air traffic control, weather forecasting, homeland security, and national defense systems.

To prevent this, wind energy project developers coordinate with several federal agencies to screen potential wind energy sites for radar interference.

Review our page on radar interference and wind farms.