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Social acceptance of wind energy? - A synopsis

I. Introduction

Wind farms play a more and more important role in the expansion of renewable energy resources. However, they are not only discussed as a highly efficient renewable energy resource with regard to the electricity generation, but also in terms of the expenses related to their development (Deutsche WindGuard 2014, Jacobsen 2009). Especially in Germany, the development of wind facilities is increasingly becoming the focal point in the political discourse at national level: to exit from new nuclear power generation – keyword “Energiewende” (engl., “energy transition”) – and to fulfill he government’s CO2 reduction objectives as agreed upon in international treaties (e.g. EU 2030 Climate and Energy framework, Paris agreement, Kyoto protocol). On the federal states’ level, different views about the general role of the wind energy in the energy transition give rise to inner German political conflicts; however, social criticism is attributable not only to structural differences for wind facilities between the northern and southern lands of Germany (cf. Tagesschau 2016).

Besides, wind energy also heats up the social debate, with proponents and opponents of wind energy drawing on their diverging perceptions of wind energy plants. The most often cited concerns relate to health (e.g. Petrova 2014, Hübner et al. 2013, McKenna 2016), biological (e.g. Jessup 2010, Fast 2013) and visual impacts (e.g. Caporale de Lucia 2015, Groth Vogt 2014). Moreover, the effects on the landscape and the nature conservation objectives are often seen very critically and brought up against the installation of wind turbines (e.g. Jones & Eiser 2009, Schneider 2016, ILKA 2016). As Germany is a rather densely populated country, the impacts on settlements might be more severe than in areas with smaller population density, for instance in the U.S (cf. Fraunhofer IWES 2016).

Not least, it is the rise in citizen initiatives against the development of wind facilities in their vicinity (cf. Thomsen 2016) and the associated obstruction potential for planning processes that exemplifies the importance of the topic of social acceptance in the context of the expansion of wind energy.

There is a wide array of studies analysing the role of acceptance in wind energy planning processes. While some authors concentrate on the procedural factors that influence the scope of participation and fairness in the wind energy planning process (e.g. Guo et al. 2015, Hammami et al. 2016, Huesca et al. 2016), other papers pay special attention to the perception of impacts, such as the value of landscape (e.g. Caporale de Lucia 2015, Khorsandi 2015, Maruyama et al. 2007, Jones & Eiser 2010). They do not only try to identify the overall positive or negative acceptance of wind energy development in certain areas, but also aim to access the background forming the citizens’ attitude towards wind energy.

It is however striking that in the international discussion on social acceptance of wind energy, the number of partial syntheses of the current available knowledge is limited. A synoptic approach bundling the international know-how and hands-on experience is essential though for developing planning strategies that improve the attitude towards wind energy plants. Bringing together the already identified factors that influence acceptance might help to identify and fill knowledge and information gaps throughout the planning process.

Against this background, this synopsis aims to consolidate the state of international research on social acceptance of wind energy. First, an overview of frequently applied assessment methodologies of social acceptance is provided. Then the influencing factors of social acceptance, for instance the socio-political and economic framework, as well as the most common arguments for or against wind energy, are presented. Lastly, there is a summary of listed recommendations for improving the acceptance of wind facilities by way of the planning process. This enables an evaluation and overview of the international know-how of the planning process.

The synopsis at hand shall produce a qualitative overview of the current state of knowledge on social acceptance of wind energy, drawing from literature results of the past nine years. The outcome aims to enable a better understanding of social acceptance of wind energy and thereby potentially be a starting point for practical planning strategies.

II. Methodology

This synopsis was accomplished by a literature review, which covers 55 international papers from scientists with an emphasis on European contributions. The analysed articles all refer to the issue of the social acceptance of wind energy and were published between 2007 and 2015. However, the papers relate to different priorities: Some of them specifically refer to different steps of the planning process, others rather analyse the general settings of wind farms and the caused impacts.

As a first step of the synopsis, the articles were read by students, guided by three research questions:

  • How has the acceptance of wind energy been assessed? (Methods)
  • What factors influence the social acceptance of wind energy? (Factors)
  • What is suggested to increase acceptance? (Recommendations)

Consequently, the overall categories consist of the aspect factors influencing the acceptance, methods used within the articles and recommendations given by the authors to improve the acceptance. In order to provide a qualitative overview of the statements within the literature, the findings were compared to each other and then aggregated to correspond designations, thereby partially grouped to new subcategories.

Then, these findings were assigned to certain categories covering the three research questions of which methods are commonly used to assess acceptance, what factors influence acceptance and which recommendations are pronounced to increase social acceptance. Against this background, the factors’ categories consist of the socio-political framework, socio-economic factors, procedural factors, set of values, other personal characteristics and perception of impacts as well as technological and physical features. While the different methods are divided into technical and analysing methods, the suggestions are classified by categories, which are predominantly adapted to the factors (education, economic and procedural aspects, others).

Nevertheless, this approach has to be regarded critically and the results thus used with caution, as it does comprise the possibility of biases. The first critical point is the selection of sources that are analysed. Although the synopsis tries to catch the most recently published literature on social acceptance of wind energy, it has to be noted that the literature review is not able to mirror the all-embracing state of knowledge.

This becomes crucial when considering that only scientific and peer-reviewed papers have been taken into consideration, ignoring the findings of citizen initiatives or NGOs working for example on environmental protection or public participation. However, peer-review publications ensure a distinct and accredited quality of knowledge. Albeit, one might also get to the point of examining the background and funding of the cited studies – an aspect that remains untracked in the present work. Moreover, possible biases could include amongst others the following aspects: the weight assigned to a factor by the author, the interrelation between different factors, the context dependency of factors, or by which research method and when the factors were identified.

Despite these drawbacks, the results can still provide a valuable starting point for further empirical research.

III. Results and discussion

This section aims to systematise the findings of the literature review. Therefore, the results are presented in accordance to the three categories consisting of the methods, factors and recommendations and their respective subcategories. Since the different issues are aggregated to some extent, it is possible that results of the most relevant articles are highlighted in further detail. This relevance is assumed based on the quality of citation of the respective article.

1. Methods

Within the reviewed papers several methods used to assess the social acceptance or resistance of wind energy were identified (see figure 1). Generally distinguished methods can be grouped into two sub-categories: “Methods of data acquisition” and “Methods of analysis”. Furthermore, a categorisation into “technical methods” that relate to gather information and “analysis methods” that are to evaluate the information is possible. Since research papers can apply different or a combination of methods, findings show that there is not necessarily a “clear” methodology to assess the social acceptance of wind energy. Only one of the articles has not used or mentioned any method (Nagel et al. 2014) (see figure 1).

Fig. 1: Methods applied in the literature (own figure). Please click on the figure to see the full resolution.

Concerning the first category “Methods of data acquisition”, the most applied method refers to the literature review. It is widely uniform, since most of the authors review previous writings related to the respective topic of the study to draw conclusions by verifying or opposing their assumption (e.g. Wüstenhagen 2007, Gross 2007, Jones & Eiser 2009, 2010, Warren & McFadyen 2010, Schweizer-Ries 2008, Cowell 2010). Notwithstanding, Aitken (2010) indicates limits and restrictions to literature reviews since they are based on certain key assumption, for instance that the majority of the public is in favour of wind power or that opponents are ignorant or misinformed. Predefined assumptions have implications for how topics are discussed in policy and practice fields, therefore must consider that objectors to wind energy „are not always wrong“ (Aitken 2010: 1834).

The second most frequent applied method is to acquire information through the distribution and collection of questionnaires. These can entail closed and/or open questions and are directed to a sample of the (general) population in order to assess their attitudes and perceptions towards various aspects of wind energy (e.g. Swofford & Slattery 2010, Rogers et al. 2008, Schweizer-Ries 2008, Warren & McFadyen 2010). __Jones & Eiser (2009 and 2010) exemplarily used the same questionnaire for two studies from 2009 and 2010, focusing on different sections for the respective aim of the study. This shows that even the research-set up may have a decisive influence on the outcome of the social acceptance at hand.

Furthermore, another common method to gather information is the analysis of case studies (e.g. Sovacool & Ratan 2012, Loring 2007, Jolivet & Heiskanen 2010, Schweizer-Ries 2008). This analysis can range from only investigating one case e.g. a pilot case study (Gross 2007), up to nearly twenty case studies (Wüstenhagen 2007).

Besides, a more extensive but frequently used method is to conduct semi-structured interviews. These can be carried out either with stakeholders and specialists (e.g. Cowell 2010, Jobert 2007, Sovacool & Ratan 2012, Loring 2007, Gross 2007, Maruyama et al. 2007, Sauter & Watson 2007) or with a sample of the public (e.g. Wüstenhagen 2007, Loring 2007, Meyerhoff et al. 2010, Rogers et al. 2008, Warren & McFadyen 2010). Nevertheless, a considerable share of the papers applied different methods that are less common as can be seen in figure 1.

Regarding the second category “Methods of analysis”, it is striking that significantly less research papers (additionally) applied analysing methods to evaluate the gathered information. Here, the most frequent method was to do a comparison of cases, which focuses on differences and convergences among characteristics of diverse contexts, e.g. between rural and urban populations (e.g. Khorsand et al. 2015) or between two countries (e.g. Jobert 2007).

The second most frequent way to deal with the information is to create an acceptance matrix, which displays the expected behaviour of a person, e.g. adoption, support, rejection, resistance; conditional on the personal valuation of the issue and the nature of the reaction (Gross 2007). Other, more than once applied methods are to elaborate a constellation analysis based on actor network theory or to analyse the “three dimensions” consisting of the socio-political, community and market acceptance.

2. Factors

The review of the literature identified 41 different factors that can have an influence on the attitude towards wind energy – both, in a positive or a negative way. The factors were bundled into eight groups: Socio-political framework, socio-economic factors, procedural factors, set of values, other personal characteristics, perception of impacts, technological/ physical features and environmental impacts. Generally, these groups are similar to those of the VESPA categorization by Petrova (2016), which differentiates into: 1) visual/landscape, 2) environmental, 3) socioeconomic, and 4) procedural aspects. The three additional categories ‘set of values’, ‘other personal characteristics’, ‘perception of impacts’ address more explicitly the more subjective determinants of attitudes that are mentioned in literature (see figure 2).

Fig. 2: Factors mentioned in the literature (own figure). Please click on the figure to see the full resolution.

i) NIMBY and beyond

In the context of opposition against wind energy development, the term NIMBY (“Not in my backyard”) still is a very frequently mobilized term that aims to describe people that are generally for wind energy but do not approve of its implementation close to their living area. However, there is growing criticism towards the usage of this concept because it is seen as a simplistic representation of the public attitudes (Friedl & Reichl 2016), that characterizes opponents as merely selfish persons (e.g. Wolsink 2000; Devine-Wright 2009). Moreover, the concept does not explain why people perceive certain impacts as they do (Bidwell 2013). When using the concept of NIMBY it is thus also impossible of reflecting that the parallel existence of the general acceptance of renewable energies and the opposition to new projects in the vicinity might after all not be a paradox or deviant behaviour, but rather a psychologically ordinary reaction to social change (Batel & Devine-Wright 2015). Finally, it stands in the way to the important analysis of the reasons for which people support and welcome wind energy (e.g. Bidwell 2013; Petrova 2016). NIMBY as such is thus not used so often as major argument in current literature on social acceptance of wind energy – Yuan et al. (2015) might be an exception to that – , but actually frequently serves as justification for a more detailed analysis of the underlying factors and drivers of public opinion.

ii) Physical features

Distance, Location & Visibility

Even though the NIMBY concept with its strong interlinkage to distance is ever less used as such, distance as a factor influencing public attitudes remains a recurrent topic within literature, probably not least due to the constant debates in society. Residents frequently wish for wind development to be realized at a larger distance to residential areas (Meyerhoff, Ohl & Hartje 2010). However, it has been found several times, that there is no significant relation between the distance to the wind parks and the level of acceptance of wind energy development (e.g. Hübner 2013; Hübner & Pohl 2015; Groth & Vogt 2014; Petrova 2016). Inhabitants of cities that were further away from existing wind energy developments did not show a higher rate of acceptance than those closer by (Petrova 2016). While some authors contemplate whether this might be linked to the specific topological features of the area (Groth & Vogt 2014), others come to the conclusion that there are simply more significant factors, like the belonging to another social community (Firestone et al. 2012), that shape the attitude. However, even though Guo et al. (2015) also hold up the general assumption of several co-existing factors, he notes different findings that actually describe an “inverse u-shaped” relation between acceptance and distance to wind parks. His research documents that the people of the interviewed communities in China displayed comparatively lower acceptance for wind energy developments in close distance to their community but also very far away on a National level. The highest acceptance could be recorded for developments within the scope of their province. Guo et al. framed this attitude with the phrase “not in my backyard, but not far away from me” and related it to the expected economic benefits that are perceived too weak on a National basis and are outweighed by the environmental impacts on the local scale. However, the author considered that this relation might be specific for the particular region, a reflection that is confirmed by van der Horst (2007), who acknowledges distance as an important factor shaping public attitudes but depending strongly on the local context.

Closely related to the question of distance is the issue of visibility of the wind turbines, which is sometimes described as the main cause for community opposition (Cowell 2010; Groth & Vogt 2014). Moreover, a significant link between the visual appearance of wind turbines and the individual perception of decreasing property value (Walker et al. 2014) or the nuisance level (Arezes et al. 2014) was identified. Other authors however, judge visibility rather as one possible factor amongst others that is not always significant (Jobert, Laborgne & Mimler 2007; Firestone et al. 2012) or even without importance, as people that see them daily feel not more disturbed than those that see them only seldom (Petrova 2016). In this context, it is furthermore called for a conscious selection of wind farm sites that are aesthetically appropriate locations (Groth & Vogt 2014; Hübner & Löffler 2013). This is important as the location of wind turbines can also influence acceptance regardless of their distance to residential areas, but only on the basis of the value of the surrounding (Cowell 2010; Friedl & Reichl 2016). This does not only mean protected sites, but by far more importantly also visually beautiful or recreational valuable areas (Johansson & Laike 2007; Cowell 2010). The selection of the site is sometimes judged more important than the specific design or even number of wind turbines (Petrova 2016), even though the latter can be the reason for resistance in the first place (Caporale & Lucia 2015; Jessup 2010).

iii) Perception of impacts & Set of values

In either case, it becomes clear, that subjectivity and individual perception play an important role in shaping judgements of the impacts of wind energy, to such an extent that for example Caporale and Lucia (2015) speak of “relative impacts”. Petrova (2016) speaks in this context of four subjective factors that influence the personal level of disturbance by wind turbines: “visual impact, attitude toward wind turbines, sensitivity to noise, and concern over health effects associated with the wind turbines.”

Subjective value of landscape

How severe the visual impact on the landscape is perceived, depends for example on the emotional importance that people assign to places (Schweizer-Ries 2008), the value of land (van der Horst 2007) or on the image of home that they have established (Hammami, Chtourou & Triki 2016). If wind parks are not planned with “spatial consciousness”(ibid.), the turbines are frequently perceived as intruders to the rural landscape and a symbol for the urban-technological sprawl (Jessup 2010; Cowell 2010; Zilles & Schwarz 2015) and are thus rejected and spur opposition to the wind energy development. The wish to keep the landscape as it is, respectively the displeasedness with the installed turbines proved in several empirical studies on the indicators of social acceptance to be a very strong predictor of opposition to wind energy development (Zoellner et al. 2008; Wolsink 2007; Wolsink 2000; Johansson & Laike 2007; Jones & Richard Eiser 2010). Moreover, the perception that landscape is being disturbed by the wind turbines also increased the rejection of wind energy development close to the people’s own community compared to the installation elsewhere in the country (Jones & Richard Eiser 2010). Generally, the influence of landscape on acceptance has been found to be frequently analysed in literature (Fast 2013).

Set of values

In this context Devine-Wright’s work (2009) that brought place attachment together with the social psychology of social representations and identity can be integrated: Place attachment is described as an emotional connection with locations, linked to the length of dwelling (ibid.). In some societies, these bonds are explicitly addressed in the description of land as sacred (Cowell 2010) but generally they designate place-related identity processes. Whenever these are potentially threatened or disrupted, as it can be done by renewable energy development, the place attachment can engender actions at individual or collective level, so that Devine-Wright “rethinks NIMBYism as place protective action” (2009, p 432). Bidwell (2013) picks this up in his analysis of the underlying values that shape people’s perceptions. Place attachment proved to be a direct predictor of wind cautious attitudes, but even stronger, it was linked to high ratings of traditional values. These in turn actually proved to be negatively linked to the support of wind energy development, not only referring to what Bidwell called ‘wind enthusiasm’ but also to the ‘wind caution’ that describes the preference of a slower, hesitant development (ibid.). Moreover, the conservative values opposed environmentalism and the development of renewables (Bidwell 2013, Dietz et al. 2005; Rosso &Kafarov 2015). Bidwell reveals a link between environmentalism or a general openness towards renewable energies and the general acceptance of wind, which is also asserted by the work of Schweizer-Ries (2008). Caporale de Lucia (2015) has moreover observed a link between growing age and the rejection of wind turbines in the landscape. Generally, Devine-Wright (2009) and Yuan (2015) showed that people’s age, gender and employment status was important for shaping the underlying values in the first place, a fact that Bidwell (2013) confirmed with regards to gender.

Noise pollution and health effects

In the reviewed literature, few texts truly covered the issue of health or noise effects, but most only brushed the topic within their respective literature review section. Nevertheless, it appears very often amongst controversial comments on wind energy (Groth & Vogt 2014) and is sometimes described as one of the frequent arguments of opponents (Jessup 2010) and even projected to be a future central issue of social acceptance (McKenna, Ostman v.d. Leye & Fichtner 2016). Moreover, people that frequently see turbines appear to be more annoyed by the wind turbine’s noise (Arezes et al. 2014). Contrary to this, Meyerhoff and Ohl (2010) came to the finding that the majority did not feel disturbed by the noise of the wind turbines and Petrova (2016) even discovered that people who hear the turbines regularly feel less disturbed than those that hear them only occasionally. Furthermore, people that are generally in favour of wind energy perceive the noise as less disturbing (Arezes et al. 2014).

iv) Public knowledge, information& participation

Education & Information

Another factor influencing people’s judgements is their education or knowledge base. On the one hand, it could be shown that people with higher education are more open towards the development of new wind parks (Caporale & Lucia 2015), although they would prefer a cautious rather than fast approach (Bidwell 2013). On the other hand, it was noted that the better informed people were previously about impacts of the wind energy development, the more acceptance they showed for the project (Bush & Hoagland 2016; Jobert, Laborgne & Mimler 2007; Enevoldsen & Sovacool 2016). An effect that proved to be even stronger over time, when people had learned about the positive impacts of wind energy and were able to dismiss previously assumed but unfounded concerns (Firestone et al. 2012; Petrova 2016). It is seen as essential to inform the public about the usefulness and need of the new project, for example with respect to the development of the green energy market or electricity prices (Caporale & Lucia 2015; Friedl & Reichl 2016). A qualified public understanding of wind energy and its positive as well as negative impacts does not only increase the acceptance but also enables better decisions and evaluation processes (Hammami, Chtourou & Triki 2016). For this, the quality as well as the timing of the information counts: it is seen as decisive what and from where the public first receives information (Petrova 2016) as later on it will be harder to correct not just misinformation or biased information but also the feeling of not having been informed adequately and in time by the responsibles (Jobert, Laborgne & Mimler 2007; Petrova 2016). The latter is an important factor, because if the public perceives to be pushed into something or to receive untrustworthy information, or it simply cannot understand over complex information (Schweizer-Ries 2008) it can severely shape their attitude towards the project (Groth & Vogt 2014; Gross 2007) and worsen their perception of negative impacts, e.g. property value loss (Walker et al. 2014).

An influential role in this context of information distribution is taken by the media. Oftentimes, citizens are not directly impacted by a wind development project, but hear about it in the media (Schweizer-Ries 2008). Depending on which impacts and benefits the medium reports, this can have a powerful impact on the formation of the public opinion (Zoellner et al. 2008 and results of the project's media analysis)


It is thus very important how the public authorities and project developers deal with information management and participation. It is a widely shared belief in literature that the involvement or participation of the host community in the planning process is essential to the success of a project in terms of acceptance (e.g. Petrova 2016; Hammami, Chtourou & Triki 2016; Huesca-Pérez, Sheinbaum-Pardo & Köppel 2016; Enevoldsen & Sovacool 2016; Groth & Vogt 2014; Jami & Walsh 2014; Walker et al. 2014; Hübner & Löffler 2013; Swofford & Slattery 2010; Jones & Richard Eiser 2010; Zoellner et al 2008; McLaren Loring 2007; Gross 2007; Devine-Wright 2005). Petrova (2016) highlights however that participation cannot suffice to be improved as the acceptance is always the result of a complex interplay of several factors.

Looking more concretely at the forms of participation, most authors recommend the serious consultation of the stakeholders. If their concerns are not taken into consideration or they have this perception, people are more likely to form a strong opposition (Bush & Hoagland 2016; Jami & Walsh 2014; Larsen et al. 2015). Instead, integrating the interests of for example bird-protection groups or the representatives of the local employees (Jobert, Laborgne & Mimler 2007) – including disapproval (Aitken 2010) – allows not only for an adaption of the project design but also in some cases the alleviation of concerns (Jolivet& Heiskanen 2010) . Moreover, the integration of local actors in the construction or operation, improves the acceptance, as the developer is no longer only seen as an external intruder (Jobert, Laborgne & Mimler 2007). This becomes particularly true and improves the success of the implementation process, when engaging the local municipalities in the project (Zoellner et al. 2008).

Fairness & Trust

In the end, integrating stakeholders and taking their concerns seriously is a move towards achieving fairness or procedural justice. Equal treatment and consideration is not only important because it is legally required (Friedl & Reichl 2016), but also because outcomes and processes that are perceived to be unfair or undemocratic can lead to protests, damaged relationships and divided communities (Groth & Vogt 2014; Gross 2007). This can for example be the case, if people feel to be informed too late or inadequately informed, or not having the ability to voice their concerns (Larsen et al. 2015; Gross 2007). Moreover, stakeholders can feel unjustly excluded from the planning process and treated inequitable compared to others, for example neighbouring communities (Jobert, Laborgne & Mimler 2007). This can threaten their feeling of self-competence linked to their community (Devine-Wright 2009) and can be a particularly sensitive topic in societies with different social groups, for example indigenous populations (Huesca-Pérez, Sheinbaum-Pardo & Köppel 2016). Referring to this, it is also relevant to consider that different aspects of fairness can be important for different groups of stakeholders (Gross 2007): outcome fairness might be particularly relevant for those interested in the overall well-being of the community, outcome favourability for those who can gain or lose from the wind farm and finally process fairness that matters for all (ibid.). To sum up, in cases that the stakeholders have the impression of a fair process, outcomes and sufficient participation possibilities, this influences their evaluation of the entire project (Schweizer-Ries 2008). Hence, they are more welcoming of the project’s implementation (Zoellner et al. 2008) – even in the case that the final results do not correspond to their individual wishes (Friedl & Reichl 2016).

However, Walker et al. (2014) as well as Bidwell’s analysis (2013) showed that perceived justice proved only significant in combination with other variables or is overshadowed by other factors and could not predict the general attitude. Similarly, Friedl and Reichl (2016) come to the finding that procedural or distributive justice will only increase the acceptance, if the trust between the local community and the project responsibles is high enough. They are joined in this evaluation by other authors like Jobert (2007) or Wüstenhagen et al. (2007), who link the importance of trust to the high uncertainty and risk involved in new siting processes. However, it is this “trust is the key”, that is harshly criticised by Aitken (2010) for being unduly exploited for the sole aim of removing opposition to wind farms instead of truly trusting in the people’s ability to judge - even sometimes against wind energy.

v) Socio-political and economic aspects


Another decisive factor in shaping people’s attitudes is the social and political context, as it is the starting point for the social valuation process of a new project (Schweizer-Ries 2008) and shapes the perceptions (Walker et al. 2014). This becomes visible for example in the case of Firestone et al.’s research (2012), where the community origin mattered significantly more for the general attitude than visibility or place attachment. The author verified this finding that socially constructed aspects find more resonance than physical ones in his more recent work (Firestone, Bates & Knapp 2015). Guo et al. (2015) looker closer at the influence of general public attitudes about environmental issues and about wind power on the development of new wind energy projects. While they found the latter not to have explanatory power, they detected that the general view on the environment has influence on local, communal and regional level preferences concerning further wind energy development (Guo et al. 2015). Johansson and Laike (2007) however also found the general attitude towards wind energy to be decisive.

Closely related to this is the factor of political or policy acceptance. Its influence on the project’s success is seen as essential by several authors (Wüstenhagen, Wolsink & Bürer 2007; Hammami, Chtourou & Triki 2016; Friedl & Reichl 2016). Some authors identified specifically energy security related policy and issues as influential for the project’s outcome and acceptance (Shiau & Chuen-Yu 2016; Firestone et al. 2012).

Benefits sharing

The importance of benefits sharing for increasing the acceptance is a finding that is generally shared by most authors, that take nevertheless different perspectives on the topic. A few papers are mostly concerned with the equal distribution of costs related to the development (Friedl & Reichl 2016; Khorsand et al. 2015), while the majority looks at the sharing of the benefits. On the one hand it was generally observed that the anticipated effect on local economy has the highest single effect on attitudes (Schweizer-Ries 2008), to the extent that it even improves the perception of landscape change (Bidwell 2013). This highly positive influence is judged to be particularly strong in economically less developed regions (Guo et al. 2015). On the other hand, the lack of local benefits combined with community spending was identified as one of the main arguments of opponents (Jessup 2010; Hammami, Chtourou & Triki 2016; Schweizer-Ries 2008).


Getting to concrete examples of benefit sharing, one inevitably will broach the issue of wind energy’s potential for local job creation. While the expectation of new employment opportunities is judged by some authors as statistically significant for the acceptance (Caporale & Lucia 2015; Guo et al. 2015; Jobert, Laborgne & Mimler 2007), others say on the contrary that it does not have a strong influence (Petrova 2016) or might be an argument of the supporters that nevertheless does not persuade opponents (Jessup 2010). A detailed analysis on the actual potential was conducted by Ejdemo and Söderholm (2015), in which they found that the jobs created throughout the construction phase are relatively limited and especially not sustained and that there are hardly any local employment benefits during the operation phase unless no additional benefits sharing mechanism is employed. In contrast, Okkonen and Leghton (2016) had a slightly different focus of analysis, as they looked on the potential of re-investment of wind energy revenues and found this to have an employment impact that is up to eight times higher as the direct impact. Moreover, it would provide the means of regenerating the local economy and community if strategically invested in local social services (ibid.). Nevertheless, Firestone (2012) highlights that this potential does not have the slightest impacts on acceptance if it does not become clear to the population, which is actually referring back to the above-mentioned importance of adequate information.

Impacts on previous economic use & property value

Even though it is estimated that wind energy can create jobs, it is a frequent concern in the public that it might also negatively impact on previous economic uses. One of the main fears is the disturbance of touristic activities in the regions, where wind energy deployment is planned (Jessup 2010; Shiau & Chuen-Yu 2016; Cowell 2010; Groth & Vogt 2014; Firestone et al. 2012). If not specifically respected and properly assessed in touristic locations, this might become a major point of frustration (Larsen et al. 2015; Westernberg et al. 2015). Other concerns can be the harm to the local fishery, in case of offshore wind development (Shiau & Chuen-Yu 2016), the conflict with agricultural land-use (Larsen et al. 2015; Jessup 2010) or quite frequently the negative impact on the property value (Groth & Vogt 2014; Jessup 2010). Petrova (2016) asserts in this context, that the perception of value loss varies between the locations and depends on the specific community. Jones and Eiser (2009) come moreover to the conclusion that house owners are more likely to be unfavourable of wind energy. Extensively researched however has this topic been by Walker et al. (2014). They cite sources, which conclude that on average no losses could be found so far, but objects that this can differ on the individual basis and that it is also hard to account for very close distance properties (<800m). They identified people that do perceive that a value loss has taken place and found a statistical relation between the perception of property loss and lower acceptance (ibid.).

Financial involvement of community members

Another relevant economic factor mentioned in the studied literature is the question of financial community involvement in the wind park development. There is a high public support for the idea of local partnerships (Devine-Wright 2005) or the approach of selling financial interests to local authorities (Jobert, Laborgne & Mimler 2007; Jones & Eiser 2009) and it is estimated that this can reduce conflicts (Breukers & Wolsink 2007) and increase acceptance (Enevoldsen & Sovacool 2016). Musall & Kuik (2011) and Warren & Fayden (2010) compared cases with and without community sharing or community ownership and found that acceptance is higher, where the sharing takes place or wind turbines are owned by the community.

vi) Environmental impacts

Generally, in the reviewed literature, there was not much on the importance of environmental impacts for the acceptance, so that one could easily agree on the assumption that socio-economic benefits are often more relevant than environmental concerns (Caporale & Lucia 2015; Guo et al. 2015). It seems, that negative impacts on the environment are relevant for the acceptance of wind energy depending on the presence of certain environmental beliefs (Hammami, Chtourou & Triki 2016; Rogers et al. 2008) and the specific context. Correspondingly, some authors come to the conclusion that negative impacts on biodiversity do not significantly influence the acceptance (Hübner & Löffler 2013; Caporale & Lucia 2015), while other esteem it to be among the main reasons for people to switch from support to opposition (Firestone et al. 2012), an important concern of the land owners (Huesca-Pérez, Sheinbaum-Pardo & Köppel 2016) and a source of frustration if not taken seriously (Larsen et al. 2015). Even when looking at the impact on a specific species – the red kite – it seems to have an influence in one case (Cowell 2010) but not in the other (Meyerhoff, Ohl & Hartje 2010). Moreover, Guo et al. (2015) put forward that the concern for environmental issues and its influence on acceptance varies depending on whether the wind energy project is planned on community or national level. Finally, Jessup (2010) mentions how the issue of impacts on birds is indeed brought forward most commonly by bird protection groups but is also sometimes mobilized by people whose focus is the landscape conservation.

Climate Change Mitigation

The positive influence of climate change mitigation on the acceptance is evaluated differently. On the one hand, Hübner and Löffler (2013) consider it as one of the main positive impacts perceived by the people, and it has also been shown that people, who feel responsible for the climate change, are more open towards the development of wind energy (Jones & Eiser 2009). Petrova (2016) on the other hand, admits a certain effect of the consideration of this positive impact but nevertheless judges it to be inferior to concerns about local impacts. Finally, Jessup (2010) contemplates about the fact that even though large environmental group apparently support wind energy fervently, they are increasingly absent from the debates on individual project level.

3. Recommendations

The last category groups the recommendations of improving the social acceptance of wind energy into the four subcategories: “education”, “economic approaches”, “procedural improvements” and “other” (see figure 3). During the literature review, these four aspects emerged as the key starting points in order to enhance a positive acceptance towards wind energy facilities. The subcategory “other” thereby comprises mainly compensatory measures like creating dedicated wildlife habitats or supporting community projects. Hereinafter, these four subcategories are explained in further detail (Fig. 3).

Overall recommendations of the literature Fig. 3: Overall recommendations of the literature (own figure). Please click on the figure to see the full resolution.

i) Education

For several authors, promoting education about wind energy technologies and environmental impacts play one key role to reach a higher acceptance of local wind energy projects (e.g. Swofford & Slattery 2010, Rosso-Céron & Kafarov 2015, Sauter & Watson 2007, Friedl & Reichl 2016). Environmental education plays a major role on how local communities shape attitudes towards a project (Swofford & Slattery 2010).

One discrepancy becomes clear in the literature analysed. On the one hand, authors point out that educational measures should be taken more aggressively for residents living close to a wind farm as the acceptance of wind turbines appears to decrease with decreasing proximity of housings to the installed turbines (Swofford & Slattery 2010). On the other hand, some authors call attention to the observation that the general public is generally quite able to engage with major scientific and technological issues and therefore “providing people with the ‘correct information’ or addressing concerns with generic pro-wind argument is unlikely to be effective in addressing local opposition” (Jones & Eiser 2009: 4610). Hence, Jones & Eiser (2009) would support the warnings that advise against a presumption that opposition is motivated simply by a poor-understanding or knowledge-deficit of the issue at hand. However, Bush & Hoagland (2016) acknowledge that the gap between scientific and lay knowledge only diminished late in the debate about the offshore wind farm Cape Wind facility off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Other authors also state that neither knowledge nor public participation necessarily enhances acceptability (Hammami et al. 2016).

In the light of the above, the way of providing people with information is complex. Generally, the often-proposed way to promote sound environmental and technological education is either by wind energy planners, independently, or by institutionalisation. Swofford & Slattery (2010) as well as Friedl & Reichl (2016) recommend establishing educational programs or information campaigns in areas of planned projects. Covering information about specific or proposed wind energy projects, these programs should also inform the public about the advantages and disadvantages of renewable technologies as well as climate change and energy policy. Swofford & Slattery 2010 emphasize that wind energy must be shown to be more than a financial investment and perceived harm to the aesthetics of landscape (Bush & Hoagland 2016), but also advantages such as environmentally benign sources of electricity production and a new form of carbon mitigation shall not be left unspoken. Contrary, other findings show that educating respondents about the global benefits of wind energy will most probably not produce the desired increase in project support (Petrova 2014). In fact, „credible, adequate, and timely information about the local impacts of wind energy“ is described as the key for local acceptance (Petrova 2014: 1292). Access to shares is thereby equally important for providing information within permitting processes (Huesca et al. 2016). But Sauter & Watson 2007 emphasize that not alone the content of information is important, but also the source of information. “Local and well-known mediators are more likely to have an impact on behavioural changes“, according to Sauter & Watson 2007: 2777.

Institutionalisation is one opportunity to not rely on spread information by individual wind energy developers, but to use existing education infrastructure, e.g. local schools and teachers to include in their curriculum (Swofford & Slattery 2010). Other recommendations can also be identified like to establish a national information hub that collects and provides resources for decision-makers and electricity users or to provide free energy audits and workshops for all electricity consumers (Sovacool 2009).

However, Jones & Eiser (2009) make clear that a qualified support is rather necessary, tailored to address the specific concerns held by members of proposed host communities. According to Jones & Eiser (2009) it is important that “developers and policy-makers focus on clearly establishing the specific reasons why specific members of specific communities are opposed to specific developments“ (Jones & Eiser 2009: 4613). A call is made to move the public to an informed position more quickly by Bush & Hoagland 2016 as stakeholders feeling that their opinions have not been adequately considered often end up forming strong opposition against projects. Perhaps a method can rectify these difficulties. A developed approach called „VESPA“ aims at organizing community concerns into four categories: „visual/landscape“, „environmental“, „socioeconomic“, and „procedural“ in order to address affected people more effectively (Petrova 2014).

The involvement of people in the planning process therefore seems to be the key to reconcile developers appreciating certain concerns as well as the public trusting information provided by them (Jones & Eiser 2009, 2010, Wüstenhagen 2007). Trust is equally important to be open for information (Wüstenhagen 2007).

On that account, education seems also to go along with the possibility of an early, sustained and reciprocal public participation in the planning process (Swofford & Slattery 2010, Jones & Eiser 2010), e.g. due to exchanging actual and perceived impacts on health and environment (Swofford & Slattery 2010). Bush & Hoagland (2016) recommend that project details should be worked out with participation from local stakeholders before any misperceptions of impacts are developed. Transparency between all involved groups is thus one focal point to avoid resistance against local wind energy projects (Swofford & Slattery 2010).

Nevertheless, it has to be taken into account that - in comparison to the overall identified recommendations in the literature to enhance social acceptance - the importance of specially fit education programs meant to increase knowledge are only mentioned sparsely. However, generally four levels of participation can be identified: starting from giving information, enabling consultation, cooperation and ending with the self-empowerment (Friedl & Reichl 2016). Education and information thus might indirectly be a compulsive part of divergent starting points like improving procedural planning measures to enhance the social acceptance of wind energy.

ii) Economic approaches

With respect to measures of economic nature, many articles suggest the creation of economic benefits from wind turbines for the local community in order to enhance social acceptance (e.g. Jessup 2010, Khorsand 2015, Spiess 2015, Wüstenhagen 2007, Guo et al. 2015, Hammami et al. 2016, Huesca et al. 2016, Meyerhoff et al. 2010, Rogers et al. 2008, Schweizer-Ries 2008, Warren McFadyen, Zoellner et al. 2008, Strazzeran et al. 2012, Hübner et al. 2013, Hübner et al. 2014, Hübner & Pohl 2015). This also holds good for the fact that for some people the economic benefits outweigh any environmental and social costs (Groth & Vogt 2016). Economic benefits from wind turbines also seem to act as monetary compensation in order to prevail over perceived negative impacts, such as landscape degradation and noise emissions (Groth & Vogt 2016). The following statement from a survey by Groth & Vogt (2016: 257) reveals: „If we have to hear and see them every day, which I do, it would at least be nice to benefit from them.“ The survey by Groth & Vogt (2016) makes also clear that many residents have an unclear understanding of why locally produced energy does not stay in the area benefitting local residents.

To meet these concerns, community ownership of wind turbines is one option for collective investments and share of the profits (c.f. Groth Vogt 2014, Jobert 2007, Sovacool Ratan 2012, Enevoldsen & Sovacool 2016, Guo et al. 2015, Hammami et al. 2016, Meyerhoff et al. 2010, Maruyama et al. 2007, Sauter & Watson 2007, Upham Garcia Perez, Warren & McFadyen, Strazzeran et al. 2012).

In the literature, it is becoming plain that community owned wind turbines might also resolve aspects concerning siting regulations and aesthetics (Groth & Vogt 2016). This portends for the fact that community investments are able to compensate perceived impacts and can help to counteract indignation that only landowners profit monetarily from installed turbines while the neighbour has to look at it (Jordan et al. 2007). Therefore, community ownership is one recommendation to reduce the gap between “a few winners and many losers” (Jordan et al. 2007). According to Breukers & Wolsink 2007 and Walker et al. 2010 in Groth & Vogt (2016) community owned wind turbines, albeit, may not ensure certain success since trust plays a vital part in the possibilities and outcomes of community projects. However, “just because a project is given a community label“, trust and community cohesion between local residents and lead groups is not always guaranteed (Walker 2010: 2662). Likewise Breukers & Wolsink (2007) note that a lack of local involvements due to hesitant attitudes of local councillors can weaken local commitment and support of wind energy projects.

Apart from collective ownership, financial benefits from wind turbines by means of private energy supply may also increase the social acceptance (Spiess et al 2015). Guo et al. (2015) also recommend to prioritize hiring local residents for plants in operations, maintenance and manufacturing as wind energy development can increase employment in the country. Against this background, important for acceptance seems to be that profits of the wind turbines are distributed in the local territory; exemplary this can either be achieved by local ownership of turbines or other financial benefits (cf. Strazzera et al. 2012).

Measures of economic nature can also affect the tourism sector when wind turbines are installed in important holiday resorts, especially offshore. Spiess et al. (2015) emphasise that the tourism sector could not later claim that they were not involved in wind energy development projects and to take a clear position with regard to the visibility of the turbines. Renewable energies, in the common understanding, are no longer just infrastructure, but are also part of a broader comprehension of nature (Spiess et al. 2015). Efforts to integrate projects in the local tourism concepts are recommended, too (Jobert et al. 2007). Carporale & de Lucia (2015) even call attention to innovative solutions in terms of aesthetics and efficiency due to fostered research and development in the wind energy sector. That way, innovation has advantage to create attractiveness for the enhancement of touristic activities and regional economies.

iii) Procedural improvements

By far most recommendations aim at aspects of the planning process. The recommendations range from an ameliorated public participation and information integrated in the planning process, to other procedural measures that affect either the planning system itself, such as strengthened “bottom-up” approaches that again target the public participation (e.g. Groth & Vogt 2014, Hammami et al. 2016, Jones & Eiser 2010, Meyerhoff et al. 2010, Schweizer-Ries 2008, Hübner et al. 2013) or “clearer” and standardized planning frameworks (e.g. Friedl & Reichl 2016, Jones & Eiser 2010, Jolivet & Heiskanen 2010, Strazzeran et al. 2012). Recommendations also address the stakeholders of the wind energy planning system, such as project developers (e.g. Khorsand 2015, Spiess 2015) or even politicians (e.g. Friedl & Reichl 2016).

As previously mentioned, education as a crucial issue to foster acceptance seems also to go along with the possibility of an early, sustained and reciprocal public participation in the planning process. The four levels of participation - starting from giving information, enabling consultation, cooperation and ending with the self-empowerment (Friedl & Reichl 2016) - are equally important. Each level constitutes a starting point where public participation might be enhanced. Moreover, a call for an ascendency to a higher level of participation, for instance from the level of “providing information” to “enabling consultation” is often recommended in the literature in order to enhance social acceptance of wind energy (Huesca et al. 2016). Obviously, this level of consultation is often addressed with the term “participation” in the literature.

To gain acceptance of a project it is thus important to include the affected public into the planning process, for example by means of advisory boards with members of the affected population connected with an active consultation (Friedl & Reichl 2016). Mediation processes are also mentioned as well as financial participation models (Friedl & Reichl 2016). Besides the participation opportunities in the planning process, public engagement can be proceeded through other ways such as deliberative workshops, consensus conferencing or citizen juries (Hammami et al. 2016). According to approaches like these, Huesca et al. (2016) makes clear that a „more integrated approach shows that information, consultation and participation are key to the success of a wind farm project“. Equally, Hammami et al. (2016) states the possibility that the key of public participation is that it enhances opportunities outcome favourability and outcome fairness (Hammami et al. 2016) and to make a meaningful contribution in the decision-making process (Jami & Walsh 2014).

Many articles also call for qualified participation that is characterised by the creation of guidance for public participation (Baur & Dorfinger 2015). However, other authors suggest that project managers should be wary of ‘recipes’ for participation, as recipes are nonspecific, and „thus fail to take into account the specificities of the particular socio-technical assembly implicated by each unique project“ (Jolivet & Heiskanen 2010). Indeed, one must consider that approaches that are close to best practice examples do not necessarily meet success (Friedl & Reichl 2016). By way of example, in an energy infrastructure project in Austria, all criteria of an impact assessment and economic efficiency calculation were agreed in between the local initiatives and project planners as well as experts. However, local initiatives still doubted the credibility of the assessments when it finally came to the implementation of the project (Friedl & Reichl 2016).

The time of participation of a developing wind project is nevertheless one crucial factor. An early involvement of the community helps to gain „mutual support of stakeholders, raise public awareness about the issues and complexity of balancing stakeholders’ requirements/needs/interests, provide information to develop a better understanding of the issue on hand and, identify key local environmental knowledge“ (Jami & Walsh 2014: 200). Several authors emphasize that often the planning system itself needs improvements. Many recommendations to enhance social acceptance embrace the procedural justice and fairness in planning and implementing the project (Friedl & Reichl 2016, Gross et al. 2007). In order to achieve this status, transparency and dialogs are of importance with regard to legal requirements in order to enable trust (Friedl & Reichl 2016, Wüstenhagen 2007). Likewise, bottom-up projects can deliver a range of benefits that do not materialise from top–down as benefits directly address the community (Warren & McFayden 2010).

Other authors emphasise that policymakers and developers should improve their energy decision-making locally and regionally „by ensuring they understand a town's renewable energy perceptions and preferences before installation begins“ (Petrova 2014: 1292). In support of this, Petrova (2014: 1292) introduces the so-called “ENUF” framework: policymakers and developers engage local communities, never use NIMBY as „it is a pejorative term and an insufficient descriptor of motivations in the community“, understand different perceptions and processes, and facilitate long-term discussions in order to achieve acceptance. “ENUF” for that reason might provide a guideline to contribute to a fair and just planning process, claimed before by Friedl & Reichl (2016) and Gross et al. (2007). Recommendations whence also address several stakeholders. Integrating selected experts (Fast 2013, Jones & Eiser 2010) and an access to specialist knowledge (Jones & Eiser 2010, Gross 2007, Walker et al. 2010, Hübner et al. 2014) may also enhance the acceptance towards local wind energy projects.

iv) Other

Finally, the subcategory “other” lists besides the recommendation to choose the location wisely (e.g. Spiess 2015, Guo et al. 2015, Hammami et al. 2016, Jones & Eiser 2010, Meyerhoff et al. 2010, Westernberg et al. 2015, Strazzeran et al. 2012, Hübner et al. 2013), measures that increase the community's attachment to the wind farm, such as a naming ceremony for increasing the acceptance (e.g. Fast 2013, Warren & McFadyen 2010), and technical adjustments concerning the noise production of the rotors (e.g. McKenna 2016, Petrova 2014).

The incorporation of wind turbines into place-making activities, like naming ceremonies in order increase the local acceptance may succeed depending on the culture. Nevertheless, Warren & McFayden (2010) report that by locals naming a collection of turbine as “the three dancing ladies” the sense of ownership felt by the community was strengthened. Apparently, these ceremonies were historical traditional for Dutch windmills and in this way were adopted for modern technologies. Nowadays, this approach of increasing acceptance was even common in Sweden by giving names and gender to each new installed wind turbine (Warren & McFayden 2010). In Japan, residents who have contributed to a national wind-power fund were able to name wind turbines to the names of grandchildren or to marriages (Maruyama et al. 2007).

Other recommendations aim at compensatory measures like creating dedicated wildlife habitats (Groth & Vogt 2014) or supporting community projects (Groth & Vogt 2014, Khorsandi 2015, Meyerhoff et al. 2010, Warren & McFadyen 2010, Hübner et al. 2013). Separate funds offered to the affected community may concur to community benefits (Khorsand et al. 2015). These recommendations help to minimize negative perceptions.

Nevertheless, the design of wind turbines is often seen as starting point to adjustments in order to foster acceptance. For the future development, experts suggest a power in the range 3–10 MW, with a tower height of 120–200 m and a rotor diameter of 120–180 m. For high wind speeds sites, turbines with high rated power and small rotor diameter are designed, whereas for low wind speed sites a smaller rated power and larger rotor diameters are needed (Mc Kenna et al. 2016). Especially for large wind power plants and generally the noise emissions, adjustments might contribute to meet the challenges of social acceptance (Mc Kenna et al. 2016). To meet arising concerns about health Hübner et al. (2014) recommend installing a permanent measuring station in order to monitor emissions from the wind turbines.

All in all, the different recommendations show that several analysed methods in order to foster acceptance indeed have already been practiced in the field: some have proven effective, especially when it comes to local participation, inclusion of economic benefits and the „right way“ to spread information. Even if there are still some problems related to the application of general measures to distinct local wind energy projects, the literature review has shown that sometimes even minor measures and properties like engagement in open dialogues, sharing responsibilities and trusting one another help effectively to foster the social acceptance of wind energy.

IV. Conclusion

Social-political movements often accompany promoting the development of wind energy in order to fulfil the energy policy driven goals of the energy transition and to contribute to defined climatic targets. The decentralisation of wind turbines also leads to the often-observed happening that proponents and opponents of wind energy draw on their diverging perceptions of wind energy plants.

Against this background, the objective of this synopsis was to determine which methods are undertaken to assess the social acceptance of wind turbines, to collect actual and perceived factors that have influence on the attitude towards wind energy as well as to assemble different recommendations given throughout the reviewed literature.

Findings made clear that researchers focus indirectly on already published surveys in order compare cases on acceptance patterns, while on the other hand “in the field surveys” directly are used to cover the local attitude towards wind energy planning developments. Hence, the most common approaches in order to acquire data compromise literature reviews and questionnaires. Thereby, the question of acceptance is not only limited to single countries, but also carried out internationally, such as in the U.S. or in China.

Concerning the factors that influence social acceptance, it is noticeable that the most reported concerns counter wind turbines deal with disparities in socio-economic, procedural as well as factors of perception, such as noise, environmental and health issues.

As a consequence, most of the stated recommendations to enhance the social acceptance apparently address aspects of the planning processes of wind turbines. Properties, such as the (open) access and cooperation in the planning process of wind energy projects as well as the fairness and open dialogs play a major role in order to gain support for a project from the local community. Moreover, it was becoming clear that the perceived “fairness” also implies monetary compensation and/or involvement in the wind energy project, such as ownership models. Therefore, the participation process, on the one hand, plays an important role for local residents to accept planned wind turbines within their region, on the other hand, gaining direct benefits apart from the often-promoted “environmental-friendly” wind energy technology is also crucial.

Still, it cannot be ensured that proposed recommendations by academics are necessarily incorporated when it comes to local planning processes. There is consequently a need for future research to analyse a possible “science-practice gap”. However, it is to admit that there is no guarantee that the wind energy development is regarded complaisantly if all stated recommendations are complied. Values cannot be changed easily and since the overall consumption planning is often determined politically, the focal point has to lie on improving the factors that create the wind energy development acceptable for persons concerned. Therefore, this synopsis made a first overall contribution to shed light on what factors actually prove to be the most essential in forming people’s acceptance towards wind energy in order to improve future planning processes.

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literature_review.txt · Last modified: 2017/02/02 16:45 by admin