Assessing the Social Dynamics of Wind Energy Sites to Predict Contention among Prospective Wind Projects in Michigan

January 2020
Mayur Bandekar

Attitudes towards the implementation of renewable energy technologies vary in complexity as an increasing number of renewable projects are proposed in the United States and the rest of the world. These projects remain controversial, as proponents cite their positive economic impacts and potential mitigating effects on climate change, while opponents are resistant to the renewable energy transition often times for aesthetic and reliability issues. This study focuses on wind energy and the contentiousness it sparks in communities which question the impacts of having a wind turbine sited in their local community. This study seeks to determine whether it is possible to predict the factors which can resist wind energy development to better comprehend the social dynamics found at wind sites. Drawing on past research from Mills and Bessette’s (2018) study, their linear regression model predicted the contention of areas harboring already existing wind energy sites, where this study tests this model on 17 selected townships in close proximity to prospective wind sites in Michigan. To assess the accuracy of Mills and Bessette’s original model, a content analysis of local newspapers (N = 56) in the 17 selected townships and a semi-structured focus group with the wind developers who manage these prospective wind sites were conducted to better understand contention in the selected townships. The wind developers’ perceptions were assumed to be the most accurate method of measuring the contention levels of these townships. As both the newspaper content analysis and Mills and Bessette’s original model failed to closely match the contention values from the wind developers’ perceptions, comments that wind developers suggested in the focus group for other factors that might impact contention were used to alter Mills and Bessette’s model. After adding these factors to the original model, the revised model produced a less accurate prediction of contention for these 17 selected townships, and no clear trends were found which correlate certain variables with contention scores. Findings from this research emphasize the complexity in attempting to understand the social dynamics influencing contention underlying wind energy sites. They also highlight the importance of establishing new protocols to comprehend these diverging attitudes to better help entities achieve their clean energy policy goals.